2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s political clout has failed another test in the Kansas Republican primary for Sam Brownback’s U.S. Senate seat. Attempting to wear two hats as the flag-bearer for both the Republican Party and the Tea Party, Sarah Palin’s endorsement may be more of a burden than a medal of honor.
Representative Todd Tiahrt lost the Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate to Representative Jerry Moran on August 4, on the heels of media scrutiny of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Sharron Angle, currently a leader in the conservative chicken race and believed by many to be headed for a brick wall, and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll which makes it look like a Sarah Palin endorsement is toxic among the general electorate.
This poll famously cited 25% of respondents saying they would be more enthusiastic about a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, where 52% said they would be less enthusiastic about a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin. Comparatively, Barack Obama’s endorsement was viewed favorably by 36% and unfavorably by 43%. This indicates how polarizing Sarah Palin is, more so even than the President of the United States who is being universally denounced on the other side of the aisle as an undercover Communist here to destroy the American Dream. And this poll put the former conventional wisdom, that Sarah Palin was a conservative powerhouse riding a wave of voter anger towards the incumbent establishment, into question.
This may not be exclusively negative for Sarah Palin and the Republican Party. There can be power in polarization. It energizes the base and makes sure they’ll show up at the polls. Sarah Palin may still be the conservative golden girl the Republicans want on their side, and Todd Tiahrt may have lost on his own. It was a close, hard-fought race between two neary identical candidates, and Moran had a clear advantage in funding.
But Sarah Palin and the Tea Party could fizzle in the end. After all, the Democrats have delivered so much Republican policy that they can hardly be called extremists, and fear of extreme right-wing figures like Palin could cure Democratic voters of their lack of enthusiasm after two years of disappointing legislation.
In New Hampshire, an endorsement for Republican Senate primary candidate Kelly Ayotte was immediately followed by a jump in support from 8 points ahead to 21 points ahead for Democratic candidate Paul Hodes among independent voters, but he’s still trailing among the general electorate with plenty of undecided voters. And if it comes down to the undecided voters, it appears that an endorsement from Sarah Palin isn’t likely to change their minds. It didn’t work in Kansas.