Palin's Endorsements Still Work With Underdog Candidates

Former Alaska Governor picks winners in GOP contests.

ByABC News
May 17, 2012, 11:46 AM

May 17, 2012 -- If you're an upstart Republican running for your life in a primary in the middle of the country and hoping beyond hope to gain traction against the "establishment" candidate, who you gonna call?

Sarah Palin could be the answer.

In 2010, Sarah Palin was the sought-after kingmaker for establishment and upstart candidates alike hoping to get her blessing to help them make it to Washington, D.C.

She had a strong record of endorsements to wins then, but after remaining out of the spotlight after deciding against a presidential run, does she have the same influence two years later? With two wins under her belt so far and a stake in Texas ahead of a primary there next month, could Palin and her ability to help out the underdog be back?

ABC News' political analyst and longtime GOP analyst Matthew Dowd described Palin as the "spark" that can light the fire of certain campaigns.

"Singularly, she doesn't win these races," Dowd said. "But if there is a forest with a bunch of kindling, she puts a match and a light on it. The forest wood had to be dry, but she's a spark."

He also points out her record, which has some high profile wins, such as state rep. Deb Fischer in Nebraska for that state's U.S. senate primary last week. Even some of Palin's losses have been victories of a sort. She backed Christine O'Donnell in the 2010 Delaware U.S. senate race and Sharron Angle for the U.S. senate race in Nevada in 2010. Neither woman won the seat, but they both upended establishment favorites in the primary.

"If I were a long shot taking on an establishment candidate, Sarah Palin is who I would want to come and charge up the race. She would be number one or two on the list," Dowd said. "She has as much ability to charge up the race as a former president."

And while her record is not perfect, she has backed two successful upstarts.

The former Alaska governor backed Richard Mourdock over Dick Lugar in the Indiana U.S. senate primary. But so did many Tea Partiers and other conservatives. He beat the six-term senator by 20 points.

It was more impressive last week when Palin made a late-in-the-game endorsement of rancher and state rep. Deb Fischer. Fischer sailed to victory Tuesday night, defeating both Jon Bruning, considered to be the state party favorite, and Don Stenberg, who had the backing of Tea Party groups.

Fischer was actually seen as more moderate than Bruning and Stenberg, but her message of reform coming from a mom and rancher played right into Palin's mama grizzly profile for endorsees. Palin even recorded robo-calls for her. Fischer will now take on former Nebraska governor and senator back to retake his old seat, Bob Kerrey. Despite his experience, it will be a hard battle in the very red state.

Palin endorsed Fischer not in person, but with a note posted to her 3.3 million Facebook fans, and it noted that Fischer was campaigning largely outside the party establishment and without outside funds, unlike the two other candidates.

"Your efforts remind us of those our family put forth for Sarah's races here in Alaska," read the message from Todd and Sarah Palin. "Winning over voters through personal interactions is the way to go. People are tired of outside interests spending millions of dollars in political attack ads. We're glad to see your grassroots efforts paying off!"

It's impossible to draw a bright line between Palin's endorsement and Fischer's victory. Fischer was the relative unknown in the race and Palin's endorsement, if nothing else, brought some much-needed attention to her campaign. Bruning and Stenberg were in a well-financed mudslinging contest that left Fischer largely unscathed. Bruning was dogged by questionable financial dealings.

And Palin wasn't Fischer's only backer: Former Nebraska governor Kay Orr was an early supporter of Fischer and reportedly helped secure Palin's endorsement.

But what probably had the most influence for Fischer was a late $250,000 ad buy by the Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC, funded by Chicago Cubs co-owner and Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The New York Times reported Thursday that Ricketts is behind a proposal to start a SuperPAC that goes after President Obama in a much more aggressive way than has been done so far, stressing his ties with controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright, something John McCain prohibited in 2008. (Coincidentally, Palin wanted more of a focus on Wright during the campaign, but McCain said no.)