Going Rogue

Sarah Palin Tries To Sway Garden State Republicans In A Primary

In a close GOP primary in a swing congressional district, is Sarah Palin’s endorsement a help or a hinderance?

Spencer Platt/Getty

Former reality television star Sarah Palin made her 17th endorsement of the primary season on Tuesday, when the former Alaska governor threw her support and credibility behind Steve Lonegan, a staunchly anti-immigration Tea Partier, who is running in the June 3 primary for the Republican nomination in New Jersey’s competitive 3rd Congressional District.

“Steve is the type of conservative leader we need. He believes in the free market principles this country was founded on because he has seen first hand how they can lead to success,” Palin said in a Facebook post.

It is unclear how much a Palin endorsement helps a candidate. In 2010, Palin endorsed 64 candidates, 10 of whom lost their primaries and 20 of whom lost in the general election. Remember Sharron Angle and Christine O’donnell? Palin helped build that.

In 2012, Palin took a different approach, endorsing only a smaller number of candidates, including winners Ted Cruz, an outsider Tea Party candidate and Orrin Hatch, a longtime incumbent facing a primary challenge on his right. Still, nearly half of her picks lost.

In the six 2014 primaries already held where Palin had picked a candidate—four of her picks (including Karen Handel in Georgia’s open Senate race and Taylor Griffin, who was attempting to take down dovish GOP incumbent Walter Jones in North Carolina) lost. On June 3, the outcome of Lonegan’s race might determine whether or not Palin’s blessing is actually a kiss of death.

Lonegan ran for the Senate last year, following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, when a special election was held to fill the vacant seat. Lonegan won the Republican nomination, but lost by 11 points in the general to Cory Booker, the Democratic Mayor of Newark. Palin backed Lonegan in that campaign as well.

Conveniently, following Lonegan’s loss, Republican Rep. Jon Runyan announced that he would not seek reelection after two terms in office. Lonegan began eyeing his South Jersey seat, telling the Star-Ledger in January that “yup,” he was running, and that he was about to buy a house in Lavallette, a town 77 miles away from Bogota, where Lonegan served as mayor from 1995-2007. Lonegan told the publication that he had won his soon-to-be-new district with 54 percent of the vote in 2013’s election.

However, Lonegan has failed to gain the support of local Republican leaders, who seem to favor his primary opponent, Tom MacArthur. And according to a recent poll, Lonegan is trailing MacArthur by 13 points.

Matt Rooney, editor of the conservative Save Jersey blog, said that Palin’s endorsement was more likely to hurt than help Lonegan. “A growing majority of Republican base voters, regardless of how they feel about Sarah Palin personally, increasingly view her as an entertainer as opposed to a serious political leader,” Rooney told the Daily Beast.

Seeking an endorsement from Palin, he said, “clues us into the type of leaders that [the candidate] believes the GOP should promote…Reality TV stars who say bombastic things simply to sell books are counterproductive to the [Republican] cause.”