Did Midterm Elections Lift Sarah Palin Higher, or Not?

Article excerpt

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.

A day after Election 2010 one thing is clear: Sarah Palin, the moose-hunting former GOP vice-presidential candidate, just raised the stakes for a tea party-flavored 2012 presidential run that, let's face it, could start in a matter of months.

To begin with, Ms. Palin's endorsement win-loss record was 27-15 (with eight races still undecided), coming amid a historic Republican midterm sweep of a kind the party hadn't enjoyed since the 1920s.

Palin, who has become the "mama grizzly" embodiment of the antitax tea party and disaffected independents across the United States, accomplished two key goals with her contribution: She proved that, more than a year out of office, she is perceived as a Reaganesque player in national politics while at the same time laying a groundwork of new friends in suddenly high places.

Tea Party Top 10 biggest winners and losers

But the former Alaska governor also played a role in thwarting a GOP Senate takeover, pretty much hoisting Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle past more mainstream Republican primary contenders who may have won on Nov. 2 - possibly giving the GOP a majority. Consequently, Palin's hit-and-miss effect on Election Day has reinvigorated a debate within the GOP about whether a Palin presidential candidacy would work against President Obama, who is all but certain to run, in 2012.

"In terms of Sarah Palin's influence, the picture is mixed," says Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University in New York and editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine. "While Palin's influence in the [2010] general election was actually rather mild, the success that she's had in this election cycle in remaining a player in national politics and having the capacity to mobilize voters across this country still makes her a force to be reckoned with."

Palin's misfires

Magnifying Palin's misfires, two high-profile candidates whom the news media tracked extensively - Ms. O'Donnell and Ms. Angle - lost in the election, in O'Donnell's case by double digits. Dustups like O'Donnell's "I am not a witch" ad and Angle's awkward characterizations of ethnic teens fed into perceptions that a Sarah Palin-inspired tea party is, at its core, fringe and ultimately unlikely to find its way to the White House.

Meanwhile, the race that may reveal the most about Palin's influence remains undecided. …