Sarah Palin anoints a new 'mama grizzly': Does it make a difference?

Sarah Palin endorsed Wyoming State Auditor Rita Meyer as a ‘mama grizzly’ Thursday. The Wyoming gubernatorial candidate joins Palin’s growing sisterhood of conservative feminists.

Matt Joyce/AP
Wyoming State Auditor Rita Meyer sits with Matt Mead, a former U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, and Wyoming House Speaker Colin Simpson in a forum for candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor in Cheyenne, on June 15. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorsed Meyer as a ‘mama grizzly’ Thursday.

Sarah Palin has clearly hit on a successful formula: The former Alaska governor endorses a conservative woman candidate, anoints her a “mama grizzly,” and watches the headlines roll in.

Several of these women have gone on to win their primaries. Two have lost. Many more still face primaries. But even if the power of a single endorsement remains debatable, there’s no doubt when Ms. Palin is the endorser that it gives the candidate a shot of free publicity and builds Palin’s reputation as a kingmaker.

Before Thursday, who outside of Wyoming (or even inside) had heard of State Auditor Rita Meyer, one of several Republicans running for their party’s gubernatorial nomination? Now, following Palin’s Facebook endorsement late Thursday, we know that Ms. Meyer is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and has served 23 years in the Wyoming Air National Guard, now as a colonel. She has, Palin asserted, “a unique blend of steel magnolia and mama grizzly."

IN PICTURES: Sarah Palin's fashion

Meyer faces several men in the Aug. 17 primary – including state House Speaker Colin Simpson, son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) – and fares slightly better than each of them in a recent Rasmussen Poll matching the various Republicans against possible Democratic nominees. No matter the matchup, the Republican beats the Democrat by about a 2-1 margin, according to the poll. In short, the winner of the Republican primary has an excellent shot at winning the governor’s race.

Palin’s endorsement seemed to have a big impact on South Carolina's Republican gubernatorial primary, in which she endorsed state Rep. Nikki Haley. Representative Haley was already on the rise when Palin came in, having been touted previously by RedState blogger Erick Erickson and columnist Kathleen Parker, and endorsed by expected 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But no one has the star power of Palin. And Haley shocked the field by attracting so many votes in the first round of the primary that she almost avoided a runoff.

Without Palin’s endorsement, Haley “probably wouldn’t have done nearly as well in the first round,” says Jim Guth, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. “She might have come out first still, but I think it was quite a boost.”

Haley won the runoff easily.

In California, the Senate campaign of Republican Carly Fiorina also credits Palin’s endorsement with giving the former HP CEO a critical late boost that solidified her credentials as a conservative and helped her win the GOP nomination.

Fewer than half of Palin’s endorsees are women –14 out of 33 – but it’s the women who get the attention. And they are helping to create the impression that it’s a big year for Republican women. Indeed, the GOP is fielding more women than usual in governor’s races – including California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and South Carolina – but there are just as many Democratic women running for governor (10) as Republican.

One race where Palin steered clear of an endorsement is the Colorado Senate GOP primary race, where former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton faces Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, the "tea party" favorite. Palin was expected to endorse Lieutenant Governor Norton, but then did not, perhaps to avoid clashing with her tea party supporters.

In the end, Palin’s “mama grizzlies” form a sisterhood of conservative feminists, who have sparked outrage among some liberal feminists, offended that someone who opposes abortion rights could be considered a true believer in women’s rights. If Palin runs for president, she already has the nucleus of her argument – that a new breed of conservative women is aiming high in public office and is as tough as they come, like mama grizzlies protecting their cubs.

IN PICTURES: Sarah Palin's fashion


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