In an interview this weekend, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the Washington Times what we already suspected: She's not leaving the national stage anytime soon. In fact, she's eager to get back on the trail for the candidates and causes she believes in, including Democrats. But which candidates would be willing to invite her? And just how picky will she be in accepting invitations?
Palin's decision to take to the road finally gives us a metric by which to measure her influence. Love her or hate her, the woman can draw attention to herself. How well she takes advantage of this attention -- measured in funds raised and issue/campaign debates influenced --- will determine whether her 15 minutes are coming to a close or if she can reset the clock.
She's raised just under $733,000 and has given out just $10,000 to candidates. That, however, doesn't measure the influence she could have.
So, just who will she raise money for -- and who'll take it? Much attention has already focused on the unenthusiastic response Palin has received from the 2009 GOP gubernatorial candidates. In New Jersey, for example, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie was quoted last week as saying he didn't think having Palin stump for him "would do me, or frankly the state, a whole lot of good." In a "Twitter-view" on Thursday with The Hotline, former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell was not as direct, but didn't exactly embrace a Palin visit either, saying: "Palin was a good reform Gov. for Alaska, and this campaign is about Virginia."
But these two states aren't good places to gauge the Palin phenomenon (if there is such a thing). Of course Christie doesn't want to see Palin up in New Jersey. Heck, 90 percent of the current GOP establishment doesn't play well north of the Mason-Dixon line. Same thing goes for McDonnell, who needs to woo the D.C. 'burbs, hardly a hotbed of Palin fandom.
Obviously, those Republicans looking to shore up their conservative base would like her help. Already Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who faces a serious challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, is touting Palin's support. But will the fact that she told the Washington Times of her disdain for "the partisan stuff" take some of the punch out of the pit bull's appeal to GOP primary voters? In the end, her ability to raise money is going to come from the GOP core, not from the middle.
At this point, she's raised just under $733,000 and has given out just $10,000 to candidates. That, however, doesn't measure the influence she could have in raising money for candidates by serving as a guest of honor at their fundraisers (as opposed to simply giving it away from her PAC). It also doesn't take into account the impact her endorsement could have in GOP fights.
Here are some places where she could make a serious mark:
Utah: Sen. Robert Bennett is facing a crowded field of challengers to his right in the upcoming GOP primary. He's already tapped Mitt Romney to help vouch for his conservative bona fides; a visit from Palin could give him more ammunition against charges that he's not a real conservative.
For Palin, who tried to make her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" the centerpiece of her vice presidential campaigning in 2008, the fact that Bennett is getting attacked for his support of $296 million in earmarks last year could make for an awkward fit.
Florida: Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio also fits the mold of someone who'd like to have Palin on his team. Like Palin, he's a "maverick" up against the establishment, which has coalesced around Gov. Charlie Crist. Plus, Palin, like Rubio, has been a critic of the federal stimulus legislation that Crist has very publicly supported.
But Rubio's less-than-impressive fundraising and weak poll numbers suggest he faces a steep uphill battle. Does Palin risk her "brand" if he crashes and burns?
Pennsylvania: Back in 2004, when Rep. Pat Toomey was trying to beat then-GOP Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary, he would have jumped at the chance to have someone like Palin on his side. Today, he has to worry less about his right flank and more about the middle. Even so, a protracted Democratic primary race between Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak gives Toomey lots of breathing room. With attention focused on a competitive fight, Toomey's acceptance of Palin support could fly under the radar.
There's plenty of time to assess whether Palin will be, or should be, a 2012 candidate. For now, however, her influence should be measured by the direct impact she's able to have on 2010 contests. In 2006, for example, Democrats were clamoring for the support -- and fundraising draw -- of then-Sen. Barack Obama. John McCain was an equally huge draw for Republicans in the 2002 contests. This doesn't mean that success next year makes her a shoo-in for '12. But, before the chattering class bloviates any more about Palin, it'd do them some good to see what she actually accomplishes.