Reports that California Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina will be no-shows at a widely promoted Republican National Committee (RNC) fundraiser Oct. 16 should perhaps come as no surprise.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been given top-billing at the event, and both candidates, caught in down-to-the-wire midterm election battles, are trying to distance themselves from her brand of "tea party" politics, say political experts.
[Both Ms. Whitman and Ms. Fiorina] "need to get independent voters," and the broad themes of the tea party "don’t play well with" those voters, says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.
Republican candidates trying to appeal to undecided voters, most of whom do not have favorable views of Ms. Palin, should stay away, says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “Palin was a great asset in the Republican primaries because she has very high ratings among Republicans, but she is almost toxic in the November general election."
Both candidates have formally explained that they are unable to attend the RNC event because scheduling conflicts. Fiorina elaborated, telling the press, “There are all sorts of people who have endorsed me that I don’t appear with,” citing Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine as an example.
Palin recorded a call praising Fiorina as a “common-sense conservative” in the lead-up to the California primary, and Fiorina campaign manager Marty Wilson said mailers alerting voters of Palin’s endorsement helped propel Fiorina to a 13-point lead in just a day.
But although being happy with an endorsement is one thing, playing up that endorsement before key voters is another matter entirely, analysts say.
“It’s understandable that Republicans would run away from … Palin … because her message and her philosophy have just not resonated in California,” says Hal Dash, CEO of Cerrell Associates, a Democratic strategy consulting firm. “I’m sure Fiorina and Whitman have done polling and focus groups ... and found out being with her is not a good choice.”
A California Field Poll released Wednesday provides the statistics to back up such a strategy. Fifty-three percent of California voters say a Palin endorsement would make them less inclined to vote for the candidate, while just 21 percent said they would be more inclined. Among nonpartisan voters – those that both Whitman and Fiorina need to pick up – 66 percent would be less inclined to support a Palin-backed candidate, while 9 percent said Palin would have a positive effect.
The shyness from Palin isn't limited to California. US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell just won a tough primary against moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware with the help of Palin’s endorsement. In a recent CNN interview she three times tries to distance herself from Palin, saying that Palin is something of a cheerleader of her campaign, giving “go-girl” advice.
Political analysts remind that Palin isn't the first (and won’t be the last) national figure that politicians have sought to distance themselves from prior to an election.
“Politicians, almost by definition, want to win elections,” says Jessica Levinson, political reform director for the Center for Governmental Studies. “If Palin is unpopular in their district or state, they will want to stay away from her."