Palin's bark bigger than her bite?

Greg Nash

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made a slew of 2014 endorsements this week, but for her chosen candidates the Mama Grizzly’s roar might be bigger than her bite.

Strategists say Palin is one of the few Republicans who can stir up excitement from the base and help draw attention to a little-known candidate. But most also believe her influence has waned since its peak in 2010, when her stamp of approval meant an immediate fundraising boost. 

The timing of the endorsements could also have as much to do with her latest reality television venture as it does with boosting underdog candidates.  

The Fox News contributor and former vice presidential candidate, fresh off a rousing speech at last month’s Conservative Political Action Committee, may not have the same pull with the GOP grassroots as she did in 2010. But her stamp of approval could still help her latest picks with a needed jolt of energy.  

In the past week, she’s thrown her support behind Georgia Senate candidate Karen Handel, Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, Minnesota Senate candidate Julianne Ortman, and Florida House candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto. She endorsed Oklahoma Senate candidate T.W. Shannon in early March as well.

“Sarah Palin is still influential as someone that can spotlight a candidate that otherwise has had difficulty getting attention on his own,” said GOP strategist Tyler Harber. He’s worked on campaigns where Palin’s endorsements has boosted them  and ones where Palin endorsed the other side. This cycle he’s working for Rep. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) in the Senate race, who got passed over for Palin’s blessing. 

“She's certainly helpful, she's certainly one of the only candidates who could endorse a candidate from Facebook and have it generate such a media buzz,” Harber continued. “But she's not as politically powerful as she once was.”  

Palin has a mixed record of success with her endorsements. She often endorses late, and while her support often stirs media buzz and excitement around a candidate, she’s not known as someone who brings a ton of money and organization to bear on races. 

Candidates and consultants also privately gripe that Palin’s endorsements are often as much about getting her own name in the news, and that she rarely follows through with much help. Her latest spate of endorsements come just as her new reality TV show, "Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” is set to debut on the Sportsman Channel in early April.

Palin endorsed 64 candidates in 2010 — about half of whom won their general election races. Her backing unquestionably helped GOP Senate candidates Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware win their primaries, but many others went into the ether without having much of an impact. She also backed Handel previously in her failed gubernatorial bid.

Palin instead concentrated on a smaller list in last year’s election, likely helping boost Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) past two primary rivals in her 2012 win.

“Palin's endorsement that last week helped us control the earned media narrative and continue our momentum. It was vital to getting us over the finish line,” said Aaron Trost, Fischer’s 2012 campaign manager. “It would have been very hard to win without Gov. Palin's endorsement.” 

Palin also backed the winning primary campaigns of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and now-Sen. Ted Cruz. Though she endorsed both long after they’d already secured momentum in their races and were on the track for wins, some involved in Cruz’s race say she helped provide a late spark.

Her late endorsement of Missouri Senate candidate Sarah Steelman in 2012 helped boost Steelman as well, though she ultimately fell short in her race against Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).

Palin’s most recent endorsement this cycle didn’t accomplish much, though. She backed Tea Party candidate Katrina Pierson against Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) but didn’t come in to campaign for her or help boost her past the initial endorsement.

“It didn't help much at all,” said a Tea Party-aligned Texas GOP strategist. “It shows you the limitations of what an endorsement from Palin can do.”

Republicans say her endorsement is still one of the most coveted out there in a competitive primary — it acts as a good housekeeping seal of approval for the anti-establishment base and can help generate buzz and excitement. But many sources echo that Palin rarely does much work past her initial endorsement, leaving it up to the candidates themselves to capitalize on that momentum.

“Most endorsements are a one-click deal, she endorses on Facebook and thinks that should be enough,” said Harber, who worked on Steelman race.  “She's not without influence, she definitely can push a candidate out of obscurity into the spotlight for a bit of time. And then it's the candidate's job to leverage that into something more.”


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