LOS ANGELES – Roughly half the candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin during the 2010 election season ended up winning their races, but a closer look at the contests indicates the former vice presidential candidate and ex-Alaska governor may not have been that influential.
Tallies from The Washington Post and the New York Daily News show that Palin made 64 endorsements between January and November, 33 of which won their primaries and were victorious in the general election.
Subtract those races, however, where the candidates were comfortably ahead by 10 points or more – the “slam dunks” who, analysts say, would have cruised to victory with or without Palin’s help – and the picture is much different.
“She had a major impact on the primaries,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“In the general (election), I think she was of minimal consequence.”
While 20 of Palin’s picks fall into the “slam dunk” category, 13 of her victorious endorsees were less than 10 percentage points apart from their opponents in polls leading up to the election, for a 20 percent success rate.
If you consider 10 percent too high a margin for Palin to have an impact, then cut the threshold to a 5 percentage-point margin. Under that methodology, seven Palin picks ended up winning, or an 11 percent rate.
This deeper examination of the performance of Palin-endorsed candidates could come into play should she do as expected and make a run for the presidency in 2012.
“I would argue she did not have a real good night on Tuesday night,” said Greg Valliere, chief strategist at the Stanford Group in Washington, D.C. “It was a very mixed picture.”
Of particular note are critical losses for Palin picks in Nevada and Alaska, Valliere said. Republican Sharron Angle was slightly ahead of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for one of Nevada’s Senate seats in polls leading up to the election, but Reid pulled off a 5-point victory on Tuesday.
And Joe Miller, the Palin-endorsed candidate for Alaska’s Senate seat who beat incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, appeared likely to end up circling back and losing to Murkowski in the general election.
Murkowski re-entered the race as a write-in candidate for the general election and appeared set to win by 7 points. Full results won’t be known until a hand count is completed to confirm Murkowski’s name was on the lion’s share of the write-in votes.
Late endorsements by Palin also didn’t seem to help many candidates, such as Senate candidate John Raese of West Virginia. The Republican Raese was roughly 5 points behind in the days leading up to the election. He got his Palin endorsement Oct. 11 but ended up losing the race to Democrat Joe Manchin by 10 points.
“I think the tea party mystique suffered a bit. I think her mystique suffered a bit,” Valliere said.
Palin, however, did score some victories in unexpected places. Endorsee Michael Grimm was a 10-point underdog by some measures for a House seat in the Democratic-leaning 13th District in New York. The region covers a small part of Lower Manhattan and Staten Island, but Grimm managed a surprise upset of incumbent Michael McMahon by four points.
Palin endorsements have a noticeable effect on candidates in terms of media attention and fundraising. Plus, Palin probably was looking at pushing as many candidates as possible to build her base, he said.
“She’s like a one-stop shopping mall,” Ciruli said. “She’s a volume dealership.”
That, however, is unlikely to translate into presidential votes, said the University of Virginia’s Sabato.
Polarizing political figures – such as Palin among Republicans and Democrats like Jesse Jackson in the 1980s and 1990s – do well within their parties, but not outside them.
“She has a good chance to get the nomination – and a very bad chance to be president,” Sabato said.