Tuesday’s Republican primaries showed that Sarah Palin's power should not be discounted.
Four candidates backed by the former Alaska governor pulled off primary victories, while a fifth, Alaska attorney Joe Miller, appeared to be on the verge of pulling off a major upset by defeating Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Miller credited Palin with his performance.
“I’m absolutely certain that was pivotal,” he said of Palin’s support, according to The Anchorage Daily News.
Palin, who endorsed Miller in June, recorded a last-minute robocall for the campaign that went out to voters Monday. She also posted a fundraising appeal on her Facebook page the day before the primary, trumpeting Miller's efforts to raise $30,000 for a late TV buy.
It's unclear whether Palin was a decisive factor in Miller's strong showing. Palin did not campaign with him, and the former governor, who resigned her position mid-term, has seen approval ratings in her home state fall to about 40 percent. A ballot measure that would mandate parental notification of abortion for teenagers age 17 and younger might have brought out more conservative voters who supported Miller.
Still, a Miller victory would be seen as a win for Palin, who sent out the following tweet early Wednesday morning: “Keeping fingers crossed, powder dry, prayers upward.”
Democrats had cast doubts on Palin's ability to move voters after a series of candidates she backed lost in primaries across the country. Candidates for office in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas and Georgia all lost primaries despite Palin endorsements. In Georgia, Palin appeared at an event for Karen Handel, a GOP candidate for governor, days before the Republican primary. Handel lost to a candidate supported by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who both are mulling 2012 presidential runs.
Palin started off the primary season strong. Nikki Haley in South Carolina won the GOP primary for governor and appeared to benefit from Palin’s endorsement, as did Carly Fiorina in California.
Palin scored wins in two other Republican congressional primaries on Tuesday.
In Arizona's 1st District, Palin backed Paul Gosar, who won in a crowded field. Gosar will face Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) in November. And in Florida, Col. Allen West won his primary over nominal opposition to face Rep. Ron Klein (D) in the fall. That's a rematch of the 2008 race.
Palin also showed that her support can help an establishment candidate, and not just a Tea Party-styled insurgent.
Palin backed her 2008 ticketmate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. McCain won after moving to the right, particularly in his position on immigration. That was enough to defeat Hayworth, a former congressman who had tried to run to the right of the longtime senator.
McCain's former running mate endorsed him earlier this year and campaigned in Arizona in March. The endorsement from the Tea Party star undercut Hayworth's arguments that McCain was a Washington insider.
A fifth candidate supported by Palin, Pam Bondi, won the GOP primary for attorney general in Florida. Gingrich supported a rival to Bondi in the primary.
Huckabee had a mixed night when it came to endorsements. He backed the winner in Florida's 8th District Republican primary — Daniel Webster. But Huckabee-backed Karen Diebel appeared on the edge of losing in the 24th District. She is some 500 votes behind state Rep. Sandy Adams in a race that has yet to be officially called.
If Miller wins, that would also counts as a win for Huckabee. But Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's defeat must sting the former governor.
McCollum was backed by Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as well, but it was Huckabee who headlined a late campaign rally for McCollum the weekend before the primary. Self-funder Rick Scott upset McCollum Tuesday.
Palin, her party’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, has repeatedly been a thorn in the side of the Murkowski family. She defeated Lisa Murkowski’s father Frank in Alaska’s 2006 governor’s contest.
Murkowski, who was appointed to her Senate seat in 2002 by her father, took a shot at Palin Tuesday night. “I think she’s out for her own self-interest. I don’t think she’s out for Alaska’s interest,” she said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in, according to The Anchorage Daily News.
Just a few weeks ago, Murkowski told The Hill there was no “blood war” between her and Palin, though she said she was surprised the former governor endorsed her opponent.
Ian Swanson contributed to this story.
CORRECTION: This story was originally posted with an incorrect timestamp.