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Herman Cain and Sarah Palin: Do they still have political clout?

Sarah Palin is defending Newt Gingrich from establishment Republican attacks, and Herman Cain has given Gingrich his full endorsement. But will support from these tea party superstars make any difference?

By Staff writer / January 29, 2012

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain is shown after endorsing Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, Saturday.

Doug Murray/Reuters

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When the political history of this era is written, two of the most colorful figures are likely to be Sarah Palin and Herman Cain.

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The once-obscure former governor of Alaska, picked as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, went on to create a Palin-centric industry as public speaker, author, reality TV star, Fox News commentator, and potential presidential candidate who made tons of money while tantalizing millions of tea party supporters around the country with suggestions that she might run this year. She was (still is) catnip to the media.

Herman Cain, the businessman who’d never held elective office, similarly dazzled the tea party with his conservative policy positions, his self-confident and humorous manner, and an ability to hold his own in those early crowded debates with career politicians. That he’s African American seemed to dispel the charge that the tea party movement was tinged with racism. For a while, he was winning straw polls, but he had to “suspend” his presidential campaign when a series of women made allegations of sexual misconduct.

How well do you know Sarah Palin? A quiz.

As the Republican nominating campaign has been whittled down to a four-man race, becoming a gloves-off rhetorical fight – mainly between alternating front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – do Herman Cain and Sarah Palin have any remaining political clout?

At this point, it’s hard to imagine either one of them playing a prominent role at the GOP’s convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. For the most part, Republican presidential politics has moved beyond them. Despite their ability to rouse a tea party gathering, each carries certain baggage the Republican Party would just as soon not remind voters of that close to the November election.

But this past week both Palin and Cain weighed in on behalf of Gingrich – Palin with a spirited defense of the former House Speaker, Cain with an official endorsement.

Gingrich in recent days has had to endure not only relentless attacks from the Romney campaign and the independent super PAC supporting the former Massachusetts governor – the rhetoric could be measured in megatonnage – but a series of biting sniper assaults from establishment Republicans like former Sen. Bob Dole and such conservative commentators as Peggy Noonan and Ann Coulter.

”If Gingrich is the nominee, it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices,” said Dole in a letter released Thursday. “Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him, and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.”

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