On Friday April 27th, Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin became the first high-profile conservative to endorse Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in his race over longtime Senator Dick Lugar. According to the Washington Post from the 27th:
“It’s the highest-profile endorsement yet for the primary challenger and it pits Palin against her old running-mate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who just cut a radio ad for Lugar. (emphasis mine)”
Of the two polls that were taken on the race from Howey/Depauw, we saw that on 3/26-3/28 Lugar was leading Mourdock, 42/35 (Lugar +7). The next and final poll taken from the firm was from April 30-May 1, the first few days of the week following Palin’s endorsement. The data showed that Mourdock had opened up a 10 point lead on Lugar (48/38). Palin was the only major endorsement between the 3/28 and 4/30 polls.
This poll was taken before other high profile endorsements from johnny-come-latelies Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum which came last Wednesday and Friday respectively. Sarah Palin’s support opened the flood gates for other high profile conservatives to lend theirs. Though Bachmann endorsed on Wednesday and the poll numbers became available Thursday, any endorsement, while admirable, was definitely of low risk to Santorum who until recently was running to be the leader of the Free World. Is this yet another stunning display of Santorum’s leadership?
It should be mentioned that Mark Levin and Herman Cain both endorsed Mourdock in August of last year, but no polling data shows either of those endorsements had any effect. A poll taken in July of last year did show Mourdock edging Lugar, but in October 2011 — after Cain and Levin’s endorsements — Lugar lead Mourdock by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent.
In the middle of March, Mourdock had closed the gap, but was still not over the edge in most polls. He was within the margin of error or firmly behind before Palin’s endorsement. Of two notable polls in March, one paid for by Citizens United, the other by Rep. Joe Donnelly’s campaign– both showed 45%/39% in favor of Lugar. Palin, however, made the call before any empirical evidence showed Mourdock definitively in the lead. This confirms her reputation as the leading voice of the conservative movement who is not afraid to make the bold decisions when no one else will. As is often quoted, Sarah Palin is like the Marines, running toward the danger. In this case, danger meant again bucking the entire GOPe by taking out their oldest and most established player.
Though the trend lines may have been in his favor, after Sarah Palin’s Facebook note to her 3.3 million followers, the evidence suggests the momentum shifted firmly and irreversibly toward Mourdock. After having endorsed 81 candidates in 2010 and winning 51 (a 68% success rate), Sarah Palin is still one of the hottest endorsements to be sought in 2012.
Making a difference without a title, indeed.