By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin may have peaked, politically speaking.
* The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed her running in fifth place — with 10 percent — in a hypothetical Republican presidential primary race.
* A March Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Palin’s approval rating among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents had dipped below 60 percent — a far cry from her stratospheric near-90 percent approval ratings when she was named John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
* A February Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican voters in Iowa showed Palin’s favorable rating at 65 percent, down from 71 percent in a November 2009 survey. As importantly, those viewing Palin “very favorably” dropped from 27 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2011.
Even as Palin’s poll numbers have slipped, she, too, has faded somewhat from the spotlight. She continues to post notes on Facebook that draw thousands of comments, but she rarely seems to break through into the national dialogue.
So, when did Palin reach the political tipping point — and why?
Theories abound, although there is a broad consensus among Republican strategists that the 2008 vice presidential nominee has worn out her welcome even among some GOP voters who have long been her loyal allies.
(To be clear, the Republican chattering class has never been particularly enamored of Palin or she of it. But, for much of her time on the national stage, there was a regard for her political stardom, and even that has eroded of late.)
The most commonly mentioned moment for when Palin jumped the shark politically is her response to the attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January.
Palin’s statement, which invoked the loaded term “blood libel”, created a national controversy and, according to several operatives The Fix spoke with, raised questions about Palin’s seriousness.
“I suspect the bottom fell out over the Arizona shooting when Palin’s response seemed more political than sympathetic,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican media consultant. “Obama showed great leadership during the crisis and Palin showed none.”
Others traced the decline to 2009 when Palin abruptly announced she would leave the governorship with 18 months remaining in her first term — a move that seemed to suggest, again, a lack of gravitas.
Regardless of the exact timing of the tipping point, Palin’s slippage has coincided with two other developments that have exacerbated her political problems.
First, Republican primary voters seem focused — to an almost laser-like level — on fiscal issues rather than social ones. In the NBC/WSJ poll, 70 percent of GOP primary voters said that “issues like limiting the role of the federal government and reducing the national debt” were of the utmost importance to them, while just 22 percent chose “issues like the right to life and protecting children from immoral influences in our culture.”
While Palin is a fiscal conservative as well as a social one, she is more animated by social issues. And that’s trouble in a GOP electorate that has clearly prioritized fiscal issues at the moment.
The second complicating factor for Palin is the rapid rise of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann as a potential — heck, likely — 2012 candidate.
Bachmann is, like Palin, a charismatic campaigner with a natural base among tea party Republicans. She was mobbed at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference and she stole the show in a speech earlier this month at an Iowa event sponsored by Rep. Steve King.
What Bachmann is not is anywhere near as divisive — or well-known — a figure as Palin. And that means she has room to grow — in Iowa and beyond. Palin, if you believe polling, has a hard ceiling in terms of public support, and that ceiling continues to get lower.
Palin has, time and again during her tenure in public life, proven prognosticators and pundits wrong. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Palin fatigue appears to have set in among Republicans.
She remains the party’s biggest celebrity — Donald Trump excepted — and that fame could allow her the opportunity to reframe how she is perceived by GOP voters.
But it would take considerable work and might not ultimately pay political dividends. And it’s far from clear whether going down such a path even appeals to Palin.
Found ballots upend election: The latest development in this constantly surprising Wisconsin state Supreme Court election: a whopping 14,000 ballots went uncounted in one county due to a data error, and they have swung the race in a big way.
The result: Justice David Prosser now appears to have a comfortable 7,582-vote lead over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. after the ballots in heavily Republican Waukesha County were added. That’s a blow to the assistant attorney general and her allies, who declared victory on Wednesday when Kloppenburg was up 204 votes.
While both candidates gained and lost votes as counties did their final tallies, none of the adjustments were so huge. If Prosser’s lead holds as the final numbers come in, this race might not be headed for a recount after all. Right now, the margin between the two candidates is great enough that the state would not pay for one.
Kloppenburg is filing an open records request, demanding to know how theballots were overlooked. The Wakeusha County clerk says it was mere human error.
Meanwhile, reknowned election attorneys Ben Ginsberg and Marc Elias have been retained by the Republicans and Democrats, respectively. The two faced off in the Minnesota Senate recount won by Al Franken.
O’Malley vs. Christie: Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley dimissed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) this week, telling a New Jersey audience that Republicans are peddling “stand-up comedy routines from colorful characters like your governor.”
The remarks came at the New Jersey Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner.
The New Jersey GOP responded in kind: “All you’ll hear tonight is the sound of Gov. O’Malley’s broken campaign promises as taxes/fees go up for Marylanders.”
The jousting is actually nothing new. Christie has previously knocked O’Malley’s budget and pension plans, and this isn’t the first time O’Malley has dismissed Christie as a “colorful character.”
What’s notable here is that O’Malley seems to be ready to fill a void as the chief critic of crusading Republican governors. Governors generally don’t talk bad about each other publicly, since every state faces challenges. And until recently, the affairs of one state government generally have made news in distant states.
If O’Malley wants to raise his profile, this is a good way to do it — not to mention setting the tone for the governor’s races he will oversee in 2011 and 2012.
- President Obama is postponing a planned trip today to Indiana to stay in Washington for budget negotiations. Thursday night’s talks failed to produce a deal that would avert a government shutdown, but the president said that “differences have been narrowed.”
- Christie responds to Bruce Springsteen’s letter to the editor.
- Haley Barbour says he will compete in Florida even if the state breaks Republican National Committee rules by holding its primary too early.
- Louisiana’s congressional redistricting debate remains at a standstill after the state Senate recessed until Monday. For The Fix’s overview of the map in the Pelican State, go here.
- Meanwhile, Virginia is finding similarly tough sledding, with the House and Senate no longer expected to pass similar plans.
- Sounds like former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is planning a big event in Minneapolis on May 18.
- Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where the two talked in-depth about religion.
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduces the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act.”
- Newt Gingrich is holding a fundraiser in Atlanta on April 13.
- “Who will be blamed for a government shutdown?” — Paul West, Los Angeles Times
- “Obama struggling with white voters” — Ronald Brownstein, National Journal
- “Death wish?” — Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report