Battle of the endorsements: Sarah Palin vs. Jim DeMint

Sarah Palin has seven endorsees running in Tuesday’s primaries. Sen. Jim DeMint has backed winning Senate primary candidates in Florida, Kentucky, and Colorado. Both appear to be setting up power bases.

Michael Dinneen/AP
Sarah Palin warms up the crowd prior to the appearance of political commentator Glenn Beck in Anchorage, Alaska Saturday, Sept. 11.
Mary Ann Chastain/AP/File
Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina talks to the media during a book signing for his new book 'Saving Freedom' at Books-a-Million, July 1, 2009, in Aiken, S.C.

Sarah Palin has a lot of skin in Tuesday’s Republican primaries – seven endorsees in all, running for Senate, House, and governor.

The former Alaska governor’s Senate choice in Delaware, “tea party”-backed Christine O’Donnell, threatens to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year against Rep. Michael Castle (R). Representative Castle is more than just the GOP “establishment” favorite to run for Vice President Biden’s old Senate seat. He’s a Delaware fixture, having served in statewide office continuously since 1981 – first as lieutenant governor, then governor, then the state’s only House member. Polls show that Ms. O’Donnell, a marketing consultant with a troubled financial history, has a shot at becoming the latest GOP giant-killer, following the defeat of Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Robert Bennett of Utah.

If O’Donnell wins, she could have two sometime Republican kingmakers to thank – Ms. Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who also endorsed her – as well as the group Tea Party Express, which has pumped cash into the race on her behalf.

But ultimately, it could all be moot. Expected Democratic nominee Chris Coons, county executive for New Castle County, has a shot at beating O’Donnell, whereas polls show Mr. Coons losing badly to Castle.

But in the world of intramural Republican intrigue, the New Hampshire GOP Senate primary has more angles. Palin and Senator DeMint are backing different candidates, which sets up a test of clout. Not that either endorser will be able to prove they swayed the race.

In fact, DeMint endorsed the tea party-backed candidate – former gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne – in a tweet just last Friday, after polls showed Mr. Lamontagne already surging.

In July, Palin backed the GOP establishment favorite, former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, although she didn’t do much for her until recently. On Sunday, a Palin robocall message went out in support of Ms. Ayotte.

"Kelly is one tough ‘Granite grizzly’ who has broken barriers, fought off and locked up criminals, and stood up for New Hampshire families," Palin says. "She's the true conservative running for the US Senate in New Hampshire."

Palin’s backing of Ayotte shows the lines can be blurred among Republicans over who is the smart choice for endorsement. Even if Lamontagne is more conservative than Ayotte – she said last year she probably would have voted to confirm President Obama’s first pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor – hypothetical matchups show Ayotte has a better shot at defeating likely Democratic nominee Paul Hodes in November.

Palin also makes a point of endorsing women, her so-called “mama grizzlies,” who are both fiscally and socially conservative and at times seen as more electable. In California, she endorsed the more electable Carly Fiorina for Senate, even though hard-core tea partyers preferred state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Overall, Palin’s “map” shows a mixed record. Of a total 43 endorsements, Palin has backed 24 candidates with tea-party ties versus 19 establishment candidates, and 23 women versus 20 men. So far, 20 of her candidates have won and 10 have lost, according to The Washington Post’s Palin endorsements tracker.

The map doesn’t attempt to gauge how influential Palin’s support was in each case. But in at least some, including state Rep. Nikki Haley’s GOP gubernatorial primary victory in South Carolina, Palin is credited with making a difference.

The Post doesn’t have a DeMint endorsement tracker, but he has backed winning Senate primary candidates in Florida, Kentucky, and Colorado – in all three cases, opposing the establishment favorites. Though far less famous than Palin, DeMint is gaining currency in conservative circles and seems to be setting up his own power base in the Senate – especially if many of his endorsees win on Nov. 2.

Palin, too, seems to be positioning herself with a growing national power base that could be activated in a presidential campaign. If Palin runs in 2012, Ayotte could be a crucial booster, as a senator from the state that holds the first primary. But if Ayotte loses on Tuesday, then that’s off.

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