Palin's Iowa endorsement could hurt her in 2012

If Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, she will regret endorsing former four-term Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in the Iowa Republican primary for governor.

First thoughts on how this will play out are after the jump.

Before the scenario-spinning begins, here's a question for MyDD readers: could an endorsement be any less substantial than what Palin wrote on her Facebook page?

Iowa, your great state’s motto is “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” That motto will be well served by voting for Terry Branstad for governor next Tuesday!

Please join me in supporting Governor Branstad’s campaign. Visit his website here, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

That's not an excerpt, that's the entire Facebook post. I doubt Palin is prepared to answer specific questions about why Republicans wanting to safeguard their liberties and rights should vote for Branstad instead of Bob Vander Plaats or Rod Roberts. Does she even know the policy differences between the candidates, or the reasons many Iowa conservatives are uncomfortable with Branstad?

Endorsements are rarely "game-changers" under any circumstances, but at least James Dobson explained why he's backing Vander Plaats, and his reasons reinforce the Vander Plaats campaign narrative. Chuck Norris will draw crowds and free media coverage for Vander Plaats this weekend in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Council Bluffs, northwest Iowa and West Des Moines. If Palin had planned ahead, she could have done something similar for Branstad, but instead she threw up an empty Facebook post.

It seems likely that Palin expects Branstad to be the next governor and wants to be on his good side when she campaigns here in 2011 and 2012. At least, that's how many politically engaged Iowans interpreted the move.

Vander Plaats campaign manager Eric Woolson told the Des Moines Register,

“I think that she’s seriously damaged her 2012 presidential prospects,” [...] “This says to me she’s either not running for president or she doesn’t understand Iowa very well because she has just alienated herself from her natural base. If you look at her Facebook page, all of the comments are saying ‘Terry Branstad? Really?’”

Woolson has an interest in downplaying the endorsement, of course, but in this case I agree with him. Palin has discredited herself with her natural allies in Iowa. Conservative Shane Vander Hart, whose site Caffeinated Thoughts is part of the "Blogs 4 Palin" network, had this to say last night:

I get the emails from SarahPAC so I usually hear about this in a rather timely fashion. I was traveling today and just read the endorsement in my inbox.

I emailed SarahPAC for an explanation since the endorsement announcement was rather thin. I have to admit I’m surprised and rather disappointed since Branstad doesn’t meet up with her standards of being a “commonsense conservative.” I can understand a general election endorsement, but didn’t think she’d endorse during the primary since she hadn’t yet.

I’m thinking this isn’t an enthusiastic endorsement since it was brief, doesn’t give any explanation, and is rather last minute.

Vander Hart is backing Rod Roberts for governor, by the way.

Let's look at how various outcomes in the governor's race would affect Palin.

If Branstad wins the primary easily, Palin will not get credit, because she didn't do much for him.

If Branstad wins the primary narrowly, many social conservatives will be angry that she helped him even in a small way.

If Vander Plaats surprises us all and wins the primary, everyone will know that Palin's endorsement carries no weight with social conservatives. Even Branstad supporter Craig Robinson admits, "if Vander Plaats pulls off an upset next Tuesday, a potential caucus campaign would become exponentially more difficult [for Palin]."

No matter what happens in the primary, Republicans who voted for Vander Plaats or Roberts will remember that Palin did the politically expedient thing instead of standing up for the principles she outlined in her own book.

If Branstad wins the primary and loses to Governor Chet Culver, GOP activists will see the outcome as proof that Republicans should have nominated a "real conservative."

If Branstad defeats Culver, I don't see Palin getting a lot of credit from Branstad's inner circle or the business wing of the Iowa GOP. Most of those people supported Mitt Romney in 2008 and would lean toward him again if he makes a play for Iowa in 2012. Romney endorsed Branstad weeks ago and kicked in $10,000 from his PAC.

More important, if Branstad is elected in November he will probably govern with a Democratic-controlled legislature. He is unlikely to deliver on many of his campaign promises and he probably won't strike as confrontational a tone with Democrats as the GOP base would like. By late 2011 and early 2012, when Republican activists are deciding whom to caucus for, I doubt they will view Branstad as a conservative hero.

Remember also that caucus turnout in 2012 will almost certainly be lower than the turnout for next Tuesday's primary. In 2002, about 199,000 Iowans voted in the three-way GOP primary for governor. Only about 116,000 Iowans took part in the 2008 Republican caucuses.

It's possible that even if Branstad wins the gubernatorial primary with 50 to 60 percent of the vote, supporters of Vander Plaats or Roberts could comprise a majority in the universe of 2012 Republican caucus-goers. Vander Plaats has been winning straw polls across Iowa this spring, which reflects his strong support among dedicated party activists. Palin would have been in a better position to appeal to them if she had stayed out of our governor's race.

Maybe Palin isn't planning to run for president and merely wanted to pick the likely winner in Iowa's primary. Rand Paul, whom she endorsed, won the Kentucky U.S. Senate primary last month, but Palin's preferred candidate just lost the primary in Idaho's first Congressional district, and her pick in the Washington U.S. Senate race is probably going to lose too. Palin's choice in the South Carolina governor's race, Nikki Haley, is in a tough fight. If she loses next Tuesday but Branstad prevails here, Palin will at least be associated with one winner.

Speculate away in the comments.

Tags: Mitt Romney, Iowa Caucuses, president, 2012 elections, Sarah Palin, Republican primary, Rod Roberts, Bob Vander Plaats, Terry Branstad, Chet Culver, IA-Gov, Governor, Iowa, 2010 elections (all tags)

Comments

2 Comments

All will be forgotten

or forgiven. Cult leader can do no wrong.

by Judeling 2010-06-06 01:22AM | 0 recs
RE: All will be forgotten

Depends on how Branstad does if he wins the November election. If he is Iowa wingnuts' number one villain and sellout by late 2011, I don't think people will forget this endorsement.

by desmoinesdem 2010-06-06 12:10PM | 0 recs

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