In Palin’s biggest test yet as a kingmaker, she heads Friday to Missouri to stump for former state treasurer Sarah Steelman in a close three-way race to take on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November.
It is an especially important race for Republicans, who believe that McCaskill is vulnerable and that Missouri represents one of their best chances for a pickup as they seek to win the four Senate seats they need to guarantee control of the chamber.
Polls have shown Steelman leading Rep. Todd Akin, who represents a suburban St. Louis district, but slightly trailing businessman John Brunner heading into Tuesday’s primary. She hopes Palin’s nod will be a critical validator of her conservative credentials, distinguishing her in a race in which the candidates have espoused virtually identical policy positions.
A 30-second ad featuring Palin praising Steelman as “conservative maverick” who will defend tax dollars “like a mama grizzly defending her cubs” is now airing in all of Missouri’s media markets. Steelman’s campaign is hoping that as many as 1,000 people might come out to see Palin at a Friday barbecue at a blueberry patch south of Kansas City.
“She’s got a brand that people understand in Missouri,” said Patrick Tuohey, a Steelman spokesman. "Her endorsement tells people everything they need to know.”
For candidates, Palin’s endorsement process is as mysterious as it is desirable. She conducts no formal interviews, distributes no candidate surveys. Often she keeps her nods secret even from their recipients until just before they become public.
She has endorsed just nine Republicans this year — five of them women, according to the Web site of SarahPAC, her political committee. In an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, Palin said that she is making down-ticket races, not the presidential campaign, a focus of her efforts this year. She called Senate and House races “so instrumental in reforming government, shrinking it, allowing the private sector to grow and thrive.”
Palin’s advisers did not respond to a request for further elaboration. But several trends have emerged that differentiate her from other tea party groups, such as Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.
Those organizations tend to make their endorsements early in a primary campaign, and their main focus is delivering cash. In Texas, Club for Growth officials said the group spent more than $5.5 million in support of Cruz. Palin instead focuses on lending her brand to the candidate and generally arrives closer to primary day.