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The Monday Fix: Palin joins conservatives opposing Republican candidate

Sarah Palin pledges her allegiance.
Sarah Palin pledges her allegiance. (Jeff Topping/associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009

Sarah Palin's decision late last week to endorse the Conservative Party candidate over the Republican nominee in a special U.S. House election in Upstate New York is the latest example that the former Alaska governor's allegiance is to her conservative principles rather than the party's edicts.

"Republicans and conservatives around the country are sending an important message to the Republican establishment in their outstanding grassroots support for Doug Hoffman: no more politics as usual," Palin wrote on her Facebook page.

She also cited President Ronald Reagan's belief that "blurring the lines" is not the way to rebuild the party and added: "The Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race."

Palin is the highest-profile Republican to endorse Hoffman over state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) in the Nov. 3 special election for the seat vacated by John McHugh, who President Obama named secretary of the Army. The race has rapidly developed into a battle for control of the party's direction.

Palin joins former senators Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former House majority leader Dick Armey (Tex.) in Hoffman's camp. Among those who have endorsed Scozzafava is former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) .

Of his decision to back Scozzafava, Gingrich wrote last Thursday: "We have to decide which business we are in. If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision."

Several other nationally known Republicans have delayed making an endorsement, although Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty expressed doubts about Scozzafava's conservative credentials late Friday.

At issue is the debate between the "head" choice (Scozzafava, because she is the party's candidate) and the "heart" choice (Hoffman, because his belief system hews closer to core conservative principles).

That divide isn't likely to go away no matter who wins the district in eight days. The head-vs.-heart dynamic is already shaping up in a higher-profile race in Florida's U.S. Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House speaker Marco Rubio. And if Palin runs for the party's presidential nomination in 2012, she could be the choice of the movement conservatives, while Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are likely to battle for the establishment banner.

GOP standard-bearers

Speaking of Palin, where does she rank in terms of influence within the party? (Hint: high.)

Here's a look at the 10 (well, 11) most influential GOP politicians:

10. Bob McDonnell: The former attorney general of Virginia is, barring the improbable, eight days from being elected governor of the commonwealth, a victory that many Republicans believe is a key building block for the party's comeback nationally. McDonnell has proved to be a telegenic and steady candidate.

9. John Boehner/Mitch McConnell: As 2009 turns to 2010, the focus on Capitol Hill will diminish as attention on the campaign trail increases. But, before then, House Minority Leader Boehner and his Senate counterpart, McConnell, will be tested over the coming conclusion to the health-care fight.

8. Pete Sessions: The Texas Republican isn't as high-profile as some of his colleagues, but as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he has quietly put together a strong roster of recruits in a large number of congressional districts. At September's end, 51 GOP challengers showed more than $100,000 in the bank -- evidence of Sessions's work to broaden the national playing field heading into 2010.

7. Michael Steele: The chairman of the Republican National Committee has die-hard supporters and detractors. The former group insists he has overperformed expectations -- particularly on the money front. The latter bloc argues that he is not that involved in conversations about the party's future. If the GOP wins in Virginia and New Jersey next month, it will be hard to argue with that sort of success.

6. John Cornyn: Even Democrats acknowledge that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman has done a bang-up job in 2010 recruiting. Cornyn's latest coup? Rep. Mike Castle (R), whose decision to run for the open Senate seat in Delaware makes the First State competitive. The NRSC's crop of recruits is the strongest the committee has fielded since 2004.

5. Haley Barbour: The chairman of the Republican Governors Association continues to keep a relatively low profile in Washington, but he remains influential behind the scenes as one of the party's most respected strategists. With McDonnell looking like a winner and Republicans still in the game in New Jersey, Barbour could be headed for a very good election night.

4. Mike Huckabee: No one inside the Beltway takes the former Arkansas governor seriously. But outside Washington -- and particularly among social conservatives -- Huckabee is a force to be reckoned with. His win by a surprisingly wide margin in a recent straw poll of conservatives is evidence of that strength.

3. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor is, smartly, picking his spots of late. Romney promised in an interview earlier this year with the Fix that he didn't feel compelled to sound off on every issue and instead would pick those he felt passionately about, and he has largely stuck to that promise.

2. Tim Pawlenty: Tpaw is the establishment's buzz candidate. From the large turnout for his first D.C. event last week to the announcement of a deep and talented team to advise his PAC, it's apparent Pawlenty is the current "it" boy in Republican politics. Of course, it's still a long way to 2012.

1. Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor is the prime mover in Republican politics. Her memoir, "Going Rogue," immediately went to No. 1 on Amazon's bestseller list even though it is not being released until Nov. 17. And Republican operatives acknowledge that if you want to ensure a big and energetic crowd at a GOP event, Palin must be there.

Countdown

22 days: Palin's "Going Rogue" hits bookshelves.

127 days: Romney releases "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."


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