Candidates Keep Distance From Sarah Palin on Campaign Trail

Former Alaska Gov. Stumps for Candidates, Without the Candidates Themselves

October 18, 2010, 6:57 PM

Oct. 19, 2010— -- Sarah Palin is hitting the campaign trail, going coast to coast to build support for her mama grizzlies and papa grizzlies. But there's one thing noticeably absent at her stump events -- the candidates themselves.

Palin made a three-day tour of California last week to rally Republicans, hopping from San Diego to Sacramento in a schedule packed with speeches and rallies. But neither Carly Fiorina, the GOP Senate candidate Palin endorsed, or gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman attended the events, citing scheduling conflicts.

Fiorina -- who credited Palin with giving her a much-needed boost in the primaries -- told "Fox News Sunday" that her campaign got word of Palin's trip "very late in the game" and "we had commitments to keep as well."

On Monday, Palin appeared in Nevada to kick off the Tea Party Express bus tour. The rally drew a sizeable crowd, but again, missing from the action was Sharron Angle, the GOP Senate candidate widely touted by Palin. The reason, Angle's campaign explained, is that the candidate cannot legally attend events by an organization running an independent expenditure in Nevada.

But that still doesn't mean Palin can't hold joint events with Angle.

Palin's "mama grizzlies" are not the only ones absent from her side. Even Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller, whose primary victory was fuelled by Palin's endorsement and the Tea Party Express, hasn't campaigned once with Palin. And there was no sign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry when the former Alaska governor endorsed him in Houston earlier this month.

The last time Palin actually appeared alongside a candidate was Sept. 16, when she spoke at a fundraiser for Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul. Before that, she campaigned for Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Karen Handel, who ultimately lost in the primary.

The reason for the lack of enthusiasm, experts say, is that while Palin is helpful to rally the base, her support among independents remains weak. And independent voters will be crucial to candidates like Fiorina and Angle in the next two weeks.

"You find that she did a great job in energizing voters and supporting certain candidates in a primary setting, but when you get to a general election and you have to win independent voters as well," said Kristen Soltis, conservative pollster at The Winston Group.

Sarah Palin is "somewhat of a polarized brand among independents and so what may be an asset in the primary could turn into a liability in the general," Soltis added. "And I think you see some campaigns trying to weigh the pluses and the minuses of what works for them in their own political situation."

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released today reflects that view. Sarah Palin's seen as more interested in political division than in cooperation by 56-34 percent, and the Tea Party political movement gets a very similar 56-31 percent.

Is Sarah Palin's Star Power Diminishing?

Political analysts say Palin is still a powerful force when it comes to rallying the base, as she did in California, but her appeal with the population at large is more limited, leaving candidates to look for other Republican veterans like Sen. John McCain to fill that gap.

"Palin's greatest value as a surrogate is her ability to motivate the Republican party base, so most candidates seem to be making the decision that if she assist in that base motivation, at the same time that they are themselves reaching out to the political center, that may be the best of both worlds," said Dan Schnur, a longtime political analyst in California currently serving as chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Capturing the independent vote is one of the key reasons Whitman hasn't solicited Palin's endorsement. Embroiled in a tight race, the former eBay chief executive has instead reached out for other Republican heavyweights who might have broader political appeal, like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

In California, Palin enjoys little support among independents. A Field Poll released Oct. 6 found that 69 percent of unregistered voters, crucial to both Whitman and Fiorina, have an unfavorable opinion of Palin. More than half of registered voters, 53 percent, said Palin's endorsement would make them less inclined to vote for the candidate.

While candidates may not be lining up to appear with Palin at rallies, Palin still holds a unique position in the Republican party, as evidenced in the primaries where her endorsements helped lift many unknown candidates, like Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.

"Even if she is not appearing side by side with someone like Carly Fiorina at a campaign event, I still believe her influence is going to be felt in elections around the country this cycle," Soltis said. "Say what you may about Sarah Palin, she definitely breaks the boundaries of what one usually sees out of politicians. Because she is able to stand out, she is able to generate great deals of excitement, energy and money from her core base of support."

Even Palin's former running mate, Sen. John McCain, praised Palin's star power.

"I haven't seen anyone since Ronald Reagan, that with certain individuals and large groups of individuals, who really have this passionate belief and support for her," McCain told ABC News' Terry Moran. "It's really a remarkable thing to observe."

Republican political consultants in Nevada say it would have helped Angle to campaign with Palin; she needs to match Sen. Harry Reid's get-out-the-vote efforts with Democratic heavyweights like former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Biden and President Obama.

"I think it would've benefited the Angle campaign to have a Get Out The Vote rally since early voting has already started here in Nevada," said Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant and former communications manager for Sue Lowden, the Republican establishment favorite who was defeated by Angle in the primary.

But the Tea Party candidate's campaign dismissed the idea that such big names could help Reid.

"We will have surrogates coming to the state to help us get out the vote," Angle's spokesman, Jarrod Agen, told ABC News. "Harry is behind and he needs all the help he can get, but it's not going to help him at this point. Nevada has the worst unemployment in the nation, bringing in the administration that caused this mess is going to hurt Harry more than it helps."

Not all candidates are distancing themselves from Palin when it comes to on-camera events. Rising Republican star and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio will appear with her and Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele at a rally this Saturday.

Palin is a popular figure in Florida, even though Obama won the state narrowly in 2008.

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