We all know Sarah Palin is supposed to be a divisive figure, and it's conventional wisdom for a reason: it's borne out not just in polls but in real life. Try talking to a moderate Republican, or a moderate Democrat, for that matter, about the former governor; you'll get a very different reaction than if you bring up John McCain, even George W. Bush, or the myriad 2012 contenders whom people haven't even really heard of. It's visceral.
So, with that in mind, the House campaign arm of the Democratic Party is openly salivating over the chance that Palin will get involved in any of the nation's divisive Republican primaries, the hope being that she will fan the flames with endorsements.
As Palin traveled to Ohio on Friday for an event with Ohio Right to Life, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rolled out a new list of Ohio races where Palin might want to endorse. The DCCC has set up a website, PalinsPrimaries.com, which exists mostly to associate Palin with Republican candidates--to saddle them with the baggage of Palin--in addition to the regular DCCC task of just pointing out bad things about them.
The hope is that one of several things will happen: 1) Republicans will run to the right, in the hope of winning support from Palin and/or tea partiers, making themselves less palatable to the general electorate; 2) Palin will endorse a far-right Republican primary candidate, who will take down the establishment candidate; 3) enough far-right energy will be ginned up that a mainstream candidate who doesn't embrace it, and still wins the primary, can't win the general election without the Palin/tea party backing.
"That's what Sarah Palin is doing--she's forcing Republican establishment candidates to run to the right and outside the mainstream," said DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer.
This may seem like a fantasy for Democrats, but some GOP candidates are already running to the right. Take Steve Stivers in Ohio's 15th district, who ran as a pro-choice moderate in 2008 and came very close to unseating Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D). Now, he's looking to make inroads with tea partiers and pro-life groups, and he filled out a 9/12 Project questionnaire calling for state legislatures to select U.S. senators because "for some people, it's a states'-rights issue" and suggesting federal departments other than State, Defense, Justice and Treasury could be eliminated.
It seems inevitable that Palin will endorse some candidates. Her political organization, Sarah PAC, exists to channel funds to politicians she supports. She backed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the highly touted special House election upstate New York this past November, only to see him lose to Democrat Bill Owens, but in her speech to the Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville, she told the crowd that "contested primaries aren't civil war. They're democracy at work, and that's beautiful."
Of course, no one can be sure what effect Palin endorsements may have on House races, and all this is could very well be a non-issue, particularly on how she chooses which candidates to back.
It's unlikely Palin would endorse a candidate who has no shot, whatsoever, of winning--then again, her political tactics are unconventional. For now, Democrats appear giddy with delight that her endorsements will drive otherwise moderate Republicans into a wild-eyed frenzy, or that she'll undercut the GOP mainstream by helping tea-party-style candidates represent the party in November.