In the world of political endorsements, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Deb Fischer landed a whopper Wednesday from GOP superstar Sarah Palin.
Palin jumped into Nebraska's political fray with a personal note to Fischer, in which she and her husband, Todd, said Fischer's underfunded Senate campaign reminded them of their own “grassroots” race for governor of Alaska in 2006.
“Good luck next Tuesday — the Palins are in your corner,” the couple wrote, adding that a financial contribution would be coming from SarahPAC.
Exactly why Palin threw one of her high-wattage endorsements behind the state senator from Valentine is unknown, as is the size of the donation coming. Media inquiries to Palin's political action committee went unanswered.
And the impact of Palin's endorsement on Tuesday's GOP Senate primary is unclear. One Nebraska political scientist said it could push some undecided voters into Fischer's column, while another doubted the endorsement would hold any sway.
What is clear is that Fischer, who started near the back of the pack, has gained in recent polls. That momentum and the Palin endorsement put her in position to fight State Treasurer Don Stenberg for voters seeking an alternative to the race's frontrunner, Attorney General Jon Bruning.
“At the last minute, high-profile endorsements can move voters from one candidate to another,” said Randy Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
He also said Palin's endorsement could help Fischer woo Republican social conservatives and Tea Party sympathizers. The former GOP vice presidential candidate is a rock star in the Tea Party movement.
John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was dubious. He said most Nebraskans by now have made up their minds and that endorsements, though highly sought, have little impact.
He also said Palin's endorsement could be a double-edged sword, driving away moderate Republicans who see Palin as a “little bit looney.”
“If (Fischer) was banking on this being a dealmaker for her, I think she's in trouble,” he said.
This is Fischer's first major national endorsement. Her two key opponents had already landed high-profile supporters.
Bruning enjoys the backing of former presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, while Stenberg has the support U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint and Rand Paul, both of whom are Tea Party favorites.
Palin's endorsement comes as two polls — one of which was paid for by Fischer — shows her in a fight for second place with Stenberg. The question now is whether time remains for either Fischer or Stenberg to overtake Bruning, who has outpaced both in fundraising and in every published poll.
The poll Fischer commissioned showed Bruning at 30 percent, Fischer at 26 percent and Stenberg at 18 percent. It was done on May 6 and had a margin of error of about 5 percentage points.
A poll conducted the same day by We Ask America, an Illinois polling firm, also showed Fischer in second, but it showed Bruning with a sizable lead. The automated poll of 1,152 Nebraskans showed Bruning at 42 percent, Fischer at 26 percent and Stenberg at 22.5 percent. It forced people to choose a preferred candidate, while Fischer's poll allowed people to say they hadn't yet decided on a candidate.
Both Bruning's and Stenberg's campaigns questioned the accuracy of the polls, notably Fischer's.
“One endorsement by Sarah Palin doesn't mean there is a surge. We've been making thousands of phone calls each day, and we see no evidence of a Fischer surge,” said Trent Fellers, Bruning's campaign manager.
Dan Parsons, Stenberg's spokesman, was on the road Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. He has said that Stenberg, not Fischer, was surging.
Fischer had long sought Palin's endorsement. She wrote her last summer, shortly after mounting her campaign, telling Palin that she was a “fan” and that her career inspired her as a “fellow female Republican.”
Palin's endorsement is one of GOP circles' most sought-after. Most recently, Palin backed Richard Mourdock, the Republican who beat longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary.
Out of the 13 Republican candidates Palin endorsed for Senate in 2010, 11 won primaries, according to the Washington Post. She went 6-5 in the general election, falling short with candidates like Christine O'Donnell of Delaware and Sharron Angle of Nevada.
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