Sam Morris, Steve Marcus/Las Vegas
Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010 | 2 a.m.
The campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle is preparing to announce an endorsement from conservative darling Sarah Palin, who, it hopes, will motivate the Republican base and turn out voters.
Although Angle’s campaign has actively pursued the former Alaska governor’s endorsement, the effect of Palin’s seal of approval remains an open question in a race with so few undecided voters.
Republican operatives acknowledged that Palin is a polarizing figure unlikely to sway independent voters, who are key to the race, or persuade new voters to join Angle’s camp. But a visit by her to the state could motivate volunteers and help get Angle’s much-needed base to the polls.
“Sure there are some Republicans who aren’t impressed with her,” said Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant in Reno. “But she’s still a significant force in the conservative movement. And I think in a race that could be decided by a few hundred votes, it’s important to use every tool.”
Indeed, Angle hopes Palin will fill the role of party motivator just as her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is counting on President Barack Obama, who plans to headline at least one October campaign event for him, to rally the troops.
And if there’s a party that needs motivating this election cycle, it’s the Democrats.
“I never thought I would say this, but Sarah Palin actually is a bigger draw for those loyal supporters on the right than Barack Obama is for supporters on the left,” said Eric Herzik, a political scientist at UNR. “The left is a little dispirited and a little fractured right now.”
Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen said the campaign is working out the details of an event to make the official endorsement announcement. He would not confirm whether Palin would visit the state to stump for Angle.
Palin played a pivotal role in reinvigorating the conservative base for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential campaign, drawing crowds to Nevada rallies despite McCain’s otherwise moribund campaign in the state.
She has continued to draw devoted fans since the McCain-Palin ticket’s defeat in Nevada. At a book signing at a Reno Costco last year, hundreds stood in line overnight in winter conditions for a chance to meet her.
But her star might have faded somewhat since then.
Nationally, Palin’s favorability rating has suffered tremendously since her meteoric rise in the 2008 presidential race. From 50 to 57 percent of voters polled this summer said they had an unfavorable view of her, numbers akin to Reid’s.
“I don’t think Palin will hurt her with the Republican base,” Herzik said. “It’s potentially independents that could be turned off. But that’s an unknown. The people who don’t like Sarah Palin already don’t like Sharron Angle.”
The converse likely is also true. Those who like Palin probably already like Angle.
Reid’s camp dismissed the pending endorsement.
“Sharron Angle’s focus on securing out-of-state endorsement is nothing more than an attempt to nationalize a race that’s really all about what’s best for Nevada,” spokesman Kelly Steele said, noting Reid’s local endorsements.
So far, Palin has endorsed more than 40 candidates nationally, but many — including Angle — earned her support only after winning primary races.
With Palin new to the endorsement circuit and a politically polarizing figure, it’s unclear whether her endorsement will carry weight in the general election. In fact, it’s not certain she helped candidates win primary elections where she offered her endorsement.
Of the candidates Palin endorsed before the primaries, seven won and six lost. That puts Palin’s winning percentage only slightly above .500.
Political observers guess that Palin will charm Republicans and alienate Democrats. Indeed, a recent Harris Poll found that two-thirds of Republicans and Tea Party supporters would be more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Palin, while four in five Democrats and three in five independents would be less likely to vote for the candidate.
In Angle’s case, a Palin endorsement will almost certainly help more than it hurts. Palin’s appeal, especially among voters who identify with the Tea Party, should energize conservative voters and help Angle raise money.
“I cannot think of a single reason why she wouldn’t want Palin there helping, although that may not be true in other states and with other candidates,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Palin has mostly endorsed women, all of whom are conservative — “mama grizzlies,” as Palin likes to call them. Angle fits the mold.
The states Palin has targeted are also far from random — New Hampshire, Iowa, Arizona, Nevada. All will play an important role in the 2012 presidential race. Keeping up name recognition and testing her political popularity in an off season might help Palin decide whether a presidential run is feasible.
Indeed, Palin has been criticized for appearing to put more resources into her own political and commercial success than toward helping conservative candidates across the country.
“I think she’s leaving her options open,” Duffy said.