The dust has not yet settled in Alaska's stunning Senate primary, as about 20,000 absentee and contested ballots are still being counted, while conservative attorney Joe Miller leads by 1,688 votes.
Still, Miller's performance has been a shocking upset, one that shows the influence of Sarah Palin in her home state, after she endorsed the unlikely candidate on June 2. Alaska political hands gave him very little chance of winning, and Palin's endorsement has buoyed him close to victory.
But Palin's influence in this race may not be so cut-and-dried.
The former governor is not particularly popular in her home state, after abdicating the governor's mansion and giving a rather confused explanation--that frivolous attacks and ethics complaints were weighing her down--as to why she did so. An April poll by Alaska firm Dittman Research found that 52% of Alaskans viewed her unfavorably. At the same time, she's popular among Republicans: the same poll found 71% of registered Republicans viewed her favorably.
Palin didn't really campaign for Miller. A few weeks ahead of the election, she had attended no private fundraisers or public campaign rallies for him. In the home stretch, she did record a robocall for him, and her husband, Todd Palin, did hold a fundraiser.
It seems that Palin had the most effect on this race by attracting the endorsement and money of Tea Party Express, which spent $560,000 to help Miller in the final two months of the race. That group appears to enjoy a good relationship with Palin--she's spoken at two of their rallies free of charge, and she's ridden on their tour bus--so, when Palin endorsed Miller on June 2, and Tea Party Express followed with an endorsement on June 17, the connection seemed apparent. Sal Russo, the GOP consultant who runs the group, said he didn't talk to Palin personally but that he understood she was eager for Tea Party Express to get involved in the race.
So it seems like a toss-up: was it Palin's popularity among Republicans that did it? Or did Palin circumvent her overall unpopularity in Alaska and defeat Miller by using her national influence in the Tea Party movement to attract outside spending on the race?
Probably a bit of both, but mostly the latter. Miller's victory, strangely, may best be seen as a measure of Palin's popularity outside her home state.