She picked Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock to knock off 35-year incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in the state’s May primary and supported state Sen. Deb Fischer, who won the GOP nomination for Senate in Nebraska, when fellow tea party luminary Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the Club for Growth backed state Treasurer Don Stenberg instead.
“She energizes our base. That’s the great talent she’s always had,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “It happens all the time. You’d be amazed,” he said.
In Missouri, the conservative coalition is split into three parts: the fiscal hawks, such as FreedomWorks and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), are backing Brunner; the Christian evangelicals, such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, are backing Akin; and the most anti-establishment wing, embodied by Palin, is supporting Steelman.
All three candidates sought Palin’s endorsement, leaving Brunner and Akin gingerly praising her even as they suggest her winning streak will end on Tuesday.
Brunner, the former head of a successful chemical company, has spent around $7 million of his own money on ads touting his business background. His campaign manager said that Steelman’s record in state office is not as conservative as she claims, pointing to efforts to scuttle tort reform and work with Missouri labor unions.
“Getting an endorsement from Governor Palin is certainly nice. But I don’t think it makes a long record go away,” said Jon Seaton.
Akin spokesman Ryan Hite acknowledged that Palin remains popular in Missouri, a traditional swing state that she and McCain captured in 2008. But he said that her appeal has waned a bit and that voters are now looking for proven effectiveness.
“We can’t send a rookie,” he said.
None of the three is running under the establishment banner — a key difference with other GOP primaries in states such as Nebraska, Wisconsin and Texas, where a sitting attorney general, former governor and sitting lieutenant governor were all running with their state’s GOP establishment backing.
“These are all three of a kind, one of the same,” McCaskill said. “They are all trying to be the tea party candidate.”
In 2010, general electorate voters rejected several of Palin’s picks, including Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he does not believe that 2012 will be a repeat of that experience. “I don’t think we have any of the problems we had in 2010 in terms of electability,” he said.