Has Sarah Palin cost Republicans the Senate?

Dorian Davis Adjunct Journalism Professor, Marymount Manhattan College
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New York magazine’s John Heilemann writes in his latest cover story that Sarah Palin could put the White House back into Republican hands in 2012, given the right circumstances. But he assumes that Republicans put enough stock in Palin to nominate her in the first place. Palin is to Republicans what the U.S. invasion of Iraq is to Democrats: she had no right to be here in the first place and her presence has been a disaster. That’s clear to some now — Peter Beinart calls her “the Republicans’ George McGovern” — and might be to more after the midterms.

Granted, no one blamed her for backing Doug Hoffman over the GOP’s official, and Republican National Committee-backed, nominee in NY-23’s 2009 special election, losing Republicans a safe U.S. House seat. And her “Take Back the 20” campaign, aimed at knocking off House members who voted for ObamaCare, could get some of the credit if Republicans win the House on November 2nd. But if the Senate comes down to one or two seats — the latest RCP average has Democrats winning, 51-49 — Palin’s picks might also cost Republicans a majority.

Her backing of Tea Party candidate Joe Miller over incumbent GOP senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s primaries, for instance, led to pointless drama: a Miller upset and subsequent Murkowski write-in campaign. Despite a minor speed bump though — the latest CNN/Time poll has Murkowski and Miller tied at 37 percent each and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending $160,000, a small fraction of its budget, to keep an otherwise safe seat from falling into Democratic hands — experts at least expect the GOP to hold Alaska.

That’s not the case in Delaware. In a blue state that sent Joe Biden to Washington five times, Palin helped masturbation foe and witchcraft dabbler Christine O’Donnell edge out centrist former GOP governor Mike Castle in September’s primary, though polls had shown Castle up 15 points over Democrat Chris Coons. There seems to be no logic to that. If she dressed up for Halloween as her explanation, she’d have to go as stupidity.

So unpopular is Palin in Delaware that Democrats want her to campaign there. The mojo that she seemed to have in the Republican primary is all but gone in the general, a problem that could rear its head in her own presidential campaign. And her coattails are non-existent. The latest Rasmussen poll shows O’Donnell down 11 — and that’s the best-case scenario. CNN/Time has her down 19. Nate Silver gives her less than a one percent chance of winning. The best magic trick she could do at this point is to get elected. Unlike Alaska, where the two front-runners are both Republicans, Delaware is almost certain to go Democrat. And since 35 percent of Delaware Republicans told PPP last month that Palin’s endorsement matters, Palin bears some of the blame.

Heilemann’s not alone in misjudging Palin’s importance. Last month, NewsMax called her “the No. 1 Republican kingmaker.” And last April, Time magazine dubbed Palin “one of the most influential people in the world,” in part based on her “tsunami of support.” But Palin’s about as influential in American politics as dental floss is in England. Her Senate picks are train wrecks. Poised to win 40+ seats and control of the House, Republicans have a shot at the Senate too in spite of — not because of — Palin.

Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star and MTV News content developer-turned-Flaming Politics blogger and Libertarian writer. Published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. National Journalism Center alum. NYU and CUNY grad. Journalism professor at Marymount Manhattan College.