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Did midterm elections lift Sarah Palin higher, or not?

Some big Sarah Palin picks – think Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle – lost key races in the midterm elections. But Palin made a lot of new friends in presidential primary states like New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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Meanwhile, the race that may reveal the most about Palin's influence remains undecided. The Joe Miller versus Lisa Murkowski Senate race in Alaska hewed to the deeply personal (Palin defeated Ms. Murkowski's father in a gubernatorial election, and then endorsed Mr. Miller). But it also hints at perceptions of Palin among those who've watched her longest, namely Alaskans.

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The outcome of the race could tell us what kind of influence Palin has on those who know her best, says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on the American political right.

The Miller-Murkowski race "may be where [Palin has] had more personal influence or lack of personal influence," says Professor Black. "Angle and O'Donnell had problems above and beyond Sarah Palin's endorsements."

Laying groundwork for 2012?

But the election also made Palin new political friends in early presidential primary spots such as New Hampshire, where she helped Republican Kelly Ayotte win a seat in the Senate, and in South Carolina, where Gov.-elect Nikki Haley owes a debt of gratitude to Palin for her endorsement.

"I think Palin's going to run; I don't think she's going to win," says Mr. Black at Emory.

As of now, at least one survey of Americans would support that conclusion. Two-thirds of registered voters say Palin is unqualified to be president, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Moreover, Republicans themselves are neatly divided on Palin's presidential prospects, the same poll says, with 47 percent saying she's qualified to be president and 46 percent saying she isn't.

"Come 2012, there’s going to be an enormous appetite among Republican voters for someone who can actually beat Obama in a hard-fought general election campaign," wrote conservative columnist Ross Douthat in The New York Times Wednesday. "[A]nd for all their victories last night, the Tea Parties still haven’t proven that their more polarizing candidates can win the hardest, most-contested and highest-profile races."

Nevertheless, Palin, with her characteristic elbow-to-the-jaw style, somehow managed on Election Night to embody both a cheerleader on the sidelines and a quarterback pondering the line of scrimmage.

"Very clear message to Pres. Obama: we'll send our representatives to DC to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough," she tweeted.

Palin herself has been coy about a presidential run and even suggested in a recent ad for her new reality TV show that she'd rather be out kayaking in Alaska than be stuck in some "dumpy old political office."

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