Palin Limits Stage Time With Senate Candidates

Posted October 28, 2010 at 4:22pm

When Sarah Palin headlines a rally for Alaska Senate nominee Joe Miller (R) tonight, it will be one of the few times the former Alaska governor has shared a stage with a Senate candidate this cycle.

It may be the last.

She is notoriously tight-lipped about campaign plans, but Palin-endorsed candidates from California to Pennsylvania don’t expect to see the polarizing former Republican vice presidential candidate over the next six days.

Palin has endorsed nine active Senate candidates, but her time in person with them has been mostly limited to fundraisers behind closed doors, if anything. During the general election season, Palin has held just one rally with a Senate candidate — Republican Marco Rubio in Florida on Saturday. Palin did a joint Fox News appearance with Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) on Sept. 19. She rallied with her 2008 running mate Sen. John McCain before Arizona’s Republican primary.

Some campaigns, particularly in the battlegrounds of the Northeast and West coast, privately concede that Palin has become a general election liability, and Democrats have fought to use the endorsement against GOP candidates.

Regardless of whether the candidates share a stage, Palin’s blessing has forced Republicans to answer uncomfortable questions before a general election audience. Her endorsement proved helpful in several Republican primaries, but now debate moderators from Alaska to Florida are asking Republicans whether they believed Palin is qualified to be president.

“I don’t know anything about her schedule or her plans,” said Nachama Soloveichik, spokesman for Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey (R), who was surprised by Palin’s endorsement last week. “Pat’s had a schedule for this week and next week pretty much set in stone. He’s really focused on his schedule.”

Toomey’s campaign had no warning before the former governor endorsed his Senate bid on Facebook on Oct. 19, a day before his first debate with Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.

Toomey was confronted with the endorsement during the debate and in subsequent interviews, consistently refusing to comment on Palin’s presidential credentials or even say her name. Instead he offered his gratitude “for the support I have from people all across the political spectrum.”

Republican Carly Fiorina earned Palin’s endorsement in May, but the California Senate hopeful skipped the former governor’s recent visit, citing scheduling conflicts. The Fiorina campaign confirmed Thursday that the two have never appeared together and don’t expect to before Election Day.

When pushed to answer the question that Toomey dodged, Fiorina told a CNN audience earlier in the month that, “I certainly think she’s qualified to be president of the United States.”

Public polling helps to explain the Senate hopefuls distancing themselves from Palin.

Hardly a surprise, nearly 80 percent of California Democrats have an unfavorable view of Palin, compared with 74 percent of Republicans who feel the opposite, according to a Field Poll survey released early this month. But Golden State independents, considered a key to this election, largely side with Democrats on Palin.

The poll determined that nearly 70 percent of California nonpartisans have an unfavorable view of the former governor.

Polling has determined similar feelings among voters in New Hampshire, where Palin’s July endorsement of the GOP Senate frontrunner, state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, drew heavy criticism from conservatives and Democrats alike. The state’s best-read conservative voice, the Manchester Union Leader, featured a front-page editorial blasting Palin’s involvement.

Ayotte, meanwhile, maintains she is “proud” to have the endorsement, but she has yet to share a stage with Palin in the three months since Palin declared her a “Mama Grizzly” worthy of Granite State votes. Ayotte’s campaign confirmed Tuesday that there are no scheduled visits before Election Day.

“In a state like New Hampshire, Sarah Palin is more of a liability than a boost. In a state that puts a premium on being grounded and independent, her extreme views and self-interested quest for celebrity really don’t inspire much good will,” said Emily Browne of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Ayotte “has been trying to moderate herself since the primary, and a Palin visit would no doubt remind voters that she’s as right-wing as they come.”

Expect Ayotte’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Paul Hodes, to use the Palin connection against her in Thursday night’s televised debate, the final on-air meeting of the candidates before voters head to the polls.

The map has something to do with Palin’s endorsements, of course. New Hampshire is a key presidential primary state, as is South Carolina, where her endorsement of Nikki Haley (R) for the gubernatorial primary sent Haley surging toward winning the nomination and likely the governor’s mansion on Tuesday. Palin said on “Entertainment Tonight” on Thursday night that she would seek the presidency in 2012, “if there’s nobody else to do it.”

Palin has also created a difficult balancing act for some House candidates.

Again on Facebook, she endorsed Sean Bielat in Massachusetts’ 4th district contest against 15-term Rep. Barney Frank (D).

“Remember what it was like in January 2010 when Massachusetts shocked the political world? It’s that time again,” Palin wrote last week, encouraging her 2.3 million Facebook fans to support the 35-year-old businessman. The endorsement, and other backing by national conservatives, has fueled a Bielat campaign that recently raised $400,000 in one month.

Acknowledging Palin’s effect among local voters, Bielat recently downplayed his opinion of her.

“I think a lot of people who are supporting Sarah Palin see her as a viable contender for the White House. She wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my list for presidential election,” he said in a meeting with local newspaper editorial boards, adding that he “probably would not” accept an offer from Palin to campaign for him.

“There’s no plans for that. I don’t think she’s coming to Massachusetts,” Bielat spokeswoman Lisa Barstow added Thursday. “She’s not a highly popular figure in this district. … Nationally, absolutely. Sarah Palin really speaks to a portion of the electorate that has been marginalized by the political class. For those who love her, they love her.”

And while Palin won’t be following President Barack Obama’s weekend campaign schedule through a score of swing states, she could make a surprise appearance or two.

She included West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese (R) in a recent round of endorsements. And in a state where the president’s unfavorables are hovering above 60 percent, Raese didn’t shy away from Palin’s support last week.

“I am just honored that Sarah Palin would endorse me,” he said Friday on CNN. “I know my wife and 1,000 conservative women across West Virginia support her very much. I am just pleased to get that endorsement.”

The tea party movement, of course, has embraced Palin as a leading conservative voice. She has appeared at several tea party rallies, including a recent event in Nevada (where GOP Senate candidate and tea party favorite Sharron Angle was noticeably absent).

“Watching her, there are very few people that really electrify a crowd like Sarah Palin,” Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said. “There is no comparison in terms of celebrity and appeal and pure electricity. I think anywhere she goes she’s gong to have a positive impact.”

Thursday night’s event with Miller is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Alaska Time.