Democrats' Last Hope: Sarah Palin
Can Sarah Palin save House Democrats? Many of the party's endangered incumbents are spending their final days campaigning as much against the former Alaska governor as against their Republican rivals.
No one in American politics engenders stronger feelings than Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Republicans love her, but Democrats and independents view her unfavorably with equal intensity.
The numbers bear out those sentiments. The latest Bloomberg survey, conducted by Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., shows just 38 percent of Americans view her favorably, while 54 percent see her unfavorably. A Gallup poll conducted October 14 to 17 shows almost twice as many voters say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for whom Palin campaigns as those who say they would be more likely to vote for that candidate, a nearly identical figure to Pres. Obama's. And 56 percent of Americans told Langer Research Associates, in a poll for ABC News and Yahoo!, they view Palin as more interested in division than cooperation; only 34 percent chose cooperation.
"Most of the surveys we've seen indicate that independent voters do not want to go way off into Sarah Palin land," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Hotline On Call. "They're looking for problem-solvers, not right-wing ideologues."
The incumbents Van Hollen must protect are trying to associate their Republican rivals with the former governor. Palin has endorsed 56 candidates across the country, stretching from her home state of Alaska to Florida and New Hampshire. Her political action committee has given to several more, according to reports filed with the FEC.
In Ohio, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) has used one of those donations to paint her opponent, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R), as a Palin "protégé." Palin's donation "shows whose side he is truly on and it is not the side of Ohio families," Kilroy spokesman Brad Bauman said in a statement.
Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) has put money behind his effort to tie Palin to attorney Ann Marie Buerkle (R). "Beurkle's extreme views may have gotten Sarah Palin's support," says an ad Maffei's campaign began running in September, "but she's wrong for Central New York."
"Sarah Palin helps to rally Democratic voters. The fact that show comes in for some of these Republican candidates on the far right does two things: It rallies Democratic voters and alienates independent voters," Van Hollen said. "That's obviously the exact combination Democrats need to win these races."
Democrats in Pennsylvania have started running their own ad tying former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) to Palin, and the party believes it's been an effective message. Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) campaign is running ads associating Toomey and Palin in the Philadelphia media market. Independent voters in the four counties that surround Philadelphia, the so-called Collar Counties, are home to hundreds of thousands of independent swing voters who will decide the race; Democrats say Sestak's ad has helped him in private polls.
Republicans, on the other hand, deny tying Palin to their contenders will make a difference. "I think it's ridiculous," said Nachama Soloveichik, Toomey's communications director. "I think it's Sestak trying to run away from his own record of voting with [House Speaker} Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nearly 100 percent of the time."
"Hail Marys rarely work. That's why they're called Hail Marys. And it's not going to work this time," Soloveichik said. "Sarah Palin's not on the ballot. People aren't thinking about her. They're thinking about what's been going on in Washington and everything that Sestak has voted for."
But actions speak louder than words, and just as for any surrogate, Palin helps more in some places than others. On Saturday, Palin held a last-minute rally in Charleston, W.Va.-- a state Palin's ticket won with 56 percent of the vote in 2008 -- for Senate candidate John Raese (R).On the other hand, when Palin traveled to Orlando, Florida for a fundraiser benefiting the Republican National Committee, Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) conspicuously avoided taking a photograph with her.