Sarah Palin's Endorsements: Pragmatic or Ideological?

By my count, former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has endorsed 14 Republicans in 2010. Last night, Palin's candidates went two-for-three. California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and Iowa gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad won the GOP primaries, while one of her "mama grizzlies" -- Cecile Bledsoe -- went down to defeat in a congressional primary in Arkansas. (South Carolina GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Nikki Haley was forced to a runoff.)

Overall, six of Palin's candidates have won their competitive primaries. Three of them have lost. And four candidates -- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former District Attorney Sean Duffy (running for Congress in Wisconsin), Clint Didier (running for Senate in Washington State) and Allen West (running for Congress in Florida) face upcoming competitive primaries. Rep. Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota, another Palin-backed candidate, also has an upcoming primary, though it's not competitive.

Palin hasn't always endorsed the most conservative candidates. She got flack from pro-life group in Iowa for her late-in-the-game endorsement of establishment frontrunner Brandstad. Bob Vander Plaats, the social conservative, seemed to be more in tune with the type of voters Palin attracts.

But here, Palin may have been thinking strategically: Branstad is heavily favored to become Iowa's next governor. If you're thinking of running for president, you don't want to get on the wrong side of the person who will be governor when the caucuses come around.

Carlos Osorio

The risk is that Vander Plaats's supporters will form the core of an anti-Palin movement in 2012, leaving Palin with a block of more moderate voters to try and court. Or, everyone will forget the endorsements.

In South Carolina, Palin just took a strong liking to Haley -- like Palin, an elected official who took on her state party establishment. When allegations of extramarital affairs threatened Haley, Palin leapt to her defense, allowing Haley to adopt the resentment-cum-optimism political paradigm that Palin has trademarked. She cast the allegations as the desperate straw-graspings of a state party that was trying to avoid losing its grip on power and privilege.

In California, Palin played it safe. Some of her supporters were shocked when she chose Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive, over Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a long-time conservative activist. But Palin had seen polling about which candidate her own supporters liked; more of them liked Carly. And so did Palin, who knew that DeVore had no chance of winning. If you're inclined to think Palin is making strategic bets, Fiorina was the safe choice, and she's plenty conservative.

In fact, Palin's endorsements are hard to square with any theory other than two: she truly picks individuals she comes to like; or she's growing savvier about the political ramifications of the candidates she chooses.

More CBSNews.com Coverage of Tuesday's Primaries:

Winners: Blanche Lincoln | Nikki Haley | Meg Whitman | Carly Fiorina | Sharron Angle | Roundup
Anthony Salvanto: What's Next for the Big Primary Winners?
Jeff Greenfield: California Vote to Alter Primaries Could Have Huge Impact
Bob Schieffer: Money and Melodrama Shape Primaries
Marc Ambinder: How Did Sen. Blanche Lincoln Pull Victory From the Jaws of Defeat?
Women Win Big on Primary Day
Interactive Map: CBS News Campaign 2010 Race Ratings


The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is CBS News' chief political consultant. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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