Palin Endorses Three in GOP Senate Races

Palin Endorses Three in GOP Senate Races
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The Mama Grizzly is out of hibernation, and a trio of GOP Senate hopefuls are awfully glad that she is.

After closing down the 2014 CPAC conference with a characteristically provocative speech on Saturday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been back on the endorsement circuit this week, bestowing her official backing on three U.S. Senate candidates running in contested Republican primaries.

Reached by RealClearPolitics, all three recipients of Palin’s latest round of support lavished praise on the 2008 vice-presidential nominee and agreed that she remains as relevant in red-state Republican primaries as she was when she helped launch a number of underfunded and obscure candidates to victories in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

Palin opened her latest stab at king-making on Wednesday by backing former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon in his special election bid to fill out the term of outgoing Sen. Tom Coburn.

According to the polls, the frontrunner in this multi-candidate field has been U.S. Rep. James Lankford. But Shannon -- who was the state’s first African-American House speaker -- has also generated some buzz, which surely will increase with the Palin nod.

Shannon said that he received about 2½ hours’ notice from Palin’s team before she endorsed him on her Facebook page -- an abbreviated head’s-up that is in keeping with her traditional approach.

“She’s the most visible, exciting figure in the conservative movement right now,” Shannon told RCP. “One of the things I appreciate about her is she’s real, and that’s what people identify with. … We’ve got a lot of conservatives who say the right things and even do the right things, but we don’t have a lot of conservatives who connect with people the way she does.”

The next day, Palin doled out two additional nods to Senate hopefuls.

The first went to Midland University President Ben Sasse, who is running in a four-way primary in Nebraska to succeed Sen. Mike Johanns, who announced last month that he will not seek re-election.

After starting the race as a clear underdog, Sasse has seen his anti-Washington message resonate, as he has risen to a near dead heat in the polls against the frontrunner, former state treasurer Shane Osborn.

With Palin’s nod, Sasse now enjoys the backing of both of the last two Republican vice-presidential nominees. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan previously endorsed him in November.

“It feels like Gov. Palin and Paul Ryan are about the two most popular politicians on the ground in our state,” Sasse said. “We’re incredibly grateful that Gov. Palin has agreed to join our project.”

Palin closed out her day’s work on Thursday with an endorsement of Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is mounting a primary challenge against six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran.

Reached within hours of the announcement of Palin’s official backing on her Facebook page, McDaniel said that the response in deep-red Mississippi had already been “overwhelmingly positive” and that his campaign anticipated an immediate bump in its fundraising.

“People in this state recognize that Sarah’s been a Republican leader and conservative leader for years,” McDaniel said. “The people of Mississippi have a lot in common with her and her belief system.”

Though each race’s outcome remains dependent on a variety of factors that go beyond a single endorsement, all three contests are competitive and should, in tandem, serve as a good indication of Palin’s influence in 2014.

During the previous midterm election in 2010, Palin was the most coveted endorsee in Republican primaries and fared generally well. She helped launch the statewide careers of Republican figures like South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez but also was blamed for costing the GOP victory in the Delaware Senate race by backing Christine O’Donnell.

Palin aides declined to comment on which other GOP primaries she might weigh in on this year.

The GOP primary challenges to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas all could offer tempting targets for Palin to put her anti-establishment inclinations to the test with varying degrees of risk. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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