Opinion: How to explain Sarah Palin, low in the polls but high in endorsing success?


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For someone who no longer holds elective office and has national poll numbers way down in the Dumpster with Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin sure seems to have a lot of advice-giving clout so far during this midterm election year.

Numerous candidates winning coveted endorsements from the former Alaska governor won in recent primaries, including two high-profile races on either coast involving GOP women. In South Carolina, state Rep. Nikki Haley credits Palin’s imprimateur for thrusting her out of the primary pack and into the Republican nomination for governor to replace that weird fellow who’s always flying off to Argentina.


In California, Palin’s endorsement of business veteran, political neophyte Carly Fiorina vaulted her past a better-known ex-congressman for the GOP nomination to confront career politician and incumbent Barbara Boxer for one of the Golden state’s longtime Democratic Senate seats on Nov. 2.

‘The truth,’ says Haley, ‘is we had a movement in South Carolina. The movement was....

...not about being Republican. It is about being conservative. It is time elected officials remember who they work for. And it is time for the people to understand they are the ones in control.’ That’s a very familiar commonsense conservative theme proclaimed by Palin.

So did Palin’s campaigning for Haley matter? ‘Gov. Palin is great because she is a national figure that has gone out and taught people the power of their voice,’ Haley adds. ‘She has taught them the people are in charge. What we saw is while creeping up in the polls she absolutely gave us a boost when we needed it.’

And Fiorina? ‘When we earned her endorsement, we saw support for Carly increase literally overnight,’ Julie Soderlund, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager told ABC News.

Additionally, recent polls indicate Sen. John McCain is pulling ahead in his Arizona primary battle where Palin campaigned for him.

Of course, not all of Palin’s picks were victorious, notably Tim Burns in Pennsylvania, who also had the support of other prominent Republicans such as Newt Gingrich.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found the now-familiar Palin polarity with only a quarter of Americans saying they are comfortable with a Palin endorsement.

So, how to account for Palin’s successes this year, especially since her methods, like her style, are so doggone unconventional -- shunning grandstand news conferences and the media to issue endorsements and statements on her Facebook page, for instance?

Who does stuff like that and how can it possibly work?

Whether that ever gets her elected to anything again, that’s part of Palin’s non-traditional brand, which in an era of profound distaste for establishment pols and many incumbents certainly helps set her apart from the pre-programmed, partisan suits Americans see maneuvering and mucking around to no particular end in Washington each day.

Now, that Journal poll was of Americans. Palin has been campaigning among Republicans, a subgroup that’s always been her strength. Palin doesn’t care about the DailyKos crowd and vice versa. And, not accidentally, conservative committed Republicans are the ones who turn out in primaries and midterm elections and will be the folks picking the GOP nominee in 2012.

Can you say decisive South Carolina primary after Iowa and New Hampshire? And assembling victory in such grassroots places depends on supporters’ emotional commitment, like that of Maru Cohen, an El Salvador immigrant who’s always worried about reliving the socialism of her Central American youth.

‘I don’t know if Sarah can win or even if she’ll run,’ Cohen confided while clutching her copy of Palin’s book, after positioning two others for better sales possibilities in a bookstore. ‘But she’s so genuine and doesn’t pull her punches. You get a sense that she’s just like you, not in it for herself like all those other self-serving showboats who say such mean things about her.’

Cohen also noted a strange thing over the 22 months since Palin burst on the U.S. political scene: The more opponents and commentators talk down Palin, the more Cohen finds herself admiring and cheering for the woman she calls by her first name, although Cohen’s never even seen the former governor in person.

But that’s just one person talking, right?

-- Andrew Malcolm

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