Tuesday, August 10, 2010

With Palin Endorsement is Murphy a "Mama Grizzly"?

Sarah Palin waded into Maryland politics last week when she released a short statement endorsing Brian Murphy in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Palin said Murphy is "a pro-life, pro-second amendment, commonsense conservative and a firm believer in the free market and the cause for energy independence. Brian has the private sector experience that is so lacking in government today. He knows how to incentivize industry to get our economy moving again." Murphy, a little known 33 year old, is fighting an uphill battle against the well known and well financed former governor Robert Ehrlich.

Though some are quick to dismiss the impact of Palin's endorsement, it is worth noting that Palin's track record so far this election cycle has been pretty good. And for Murphy, the endorsement provided two things that he desperately needed - free advertising and better name recognition. CNN,the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post have all committed new ink to the Murphy campaign. Murphy even landed an interview on the Fox Business channel and the endorsement was covered by all the local news stations. In the near term, this endorsement will help Murphy, but it is unlikely that Palin will come to the state and campaign for him and equally unlikely that there will be a long term effect.

As for the impact of her endorsement on Robert Ehrlich's campaign - I think that Tom Schaller got it mostly right in the Baltimore Sun: "Mr. Ehrlich said the snub didn't matter, but he knows better and ought to be giddy. Ms. Palin would have done far more harm to his candidacy by endorsing him, and if anything she gave Mr. Ehrlich the opportunity to polish his preferred image as a non-ideological pragmatist."

Come the general election, Governor Martin O'Malley will likely claim that Bob Ehrlich is a dangerous, right-wing conservative, out of step with Maryland voters. Ehrlich can respond by reminding voters (the majority of whom will be Democrats) that he was too moderate for Sarah Palin.

Liberal commentators like Schaller are too quick to dismiss Palin and her impact on politics - this is a mistake. Palin has had a tremendous effect on national politics since being plucked from obscurity in 2008. But her brand of conservatism is simply a poor fit with Maryland, a state that has sent only three Republican governors to Annapolis since 1950 and each - Theodore McKeldin, Spiro "Ted" Agnew, and Ehrlich - was a moderate Republican with significant bi-partisan appeal (yes, even Agnew). Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin in Maryland and although many Maryland Democrats are of the conservative "Blue Dog" variety they are not Republicans. Any statewide Republican candidate needs to win about 25% of the Democratic vote - an endorsement from Sarah Palin is not an effective strategy to achieve that mark.

Brian Murphy should enjoy the exposure that Palin's endorsement has afforded him, and his time in Maryland politics may yet come, but not this year and not in this race. In the end, Palin's endorsement of Murphy will have roughly the same impact on the campaign as the economic stimulus bill signed by President Obama last year had on the economy - the effect will near-term, limited, and mostly inconsequential - other than to boost the political fortunes of his opponents.