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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The 2010/2012 Endorsement Game

One of the important sideshows in the 2010 campaign cycle is the intervention of potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates in current GOP primaries.
Sarah Palin has received considerable attention for endorsing Tea Party favorite and libertarian scion Rand Paul for the Senate in Kentucky over Mitch McConnell’s buddy Trey Grayson, and also for endorsing her old running-mate, John McCain, in his fight with right-wing talk show host and former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
Mike Huckabee has been more aggressive in his endorsements, mainly by supporting candidates who endorsed him in 2008. Huck struck gold by getting out early in support of Tea Party/conservative icon Marco Rubio’s challenge to Charlie Crist in Florida–long before Rubio began crushing Crist in the polls. Beyond that, Huck has endorsed controversial gubernatorial candidates in two early 2012 caucus/primary states: Lt. Gov. Andre (Stray Animals) Bauer, and Iowa social conservative Bob Vander Plaats. The latter is an especially interesting endorsement; if Vander Plaats upsets former Gov. Terry Branstad (who is closely affiliated with Mitt Romney supporters in that state) in the Iowa gubernatorial primary in June, Huck will be in good shape to repeat his 2008 victory in the Iowa Caucuses.
Like Huckabee, Mitt Romney has kept his endorsements so far limited to 2008 allies (with the exception of John McCain). Those include front-running California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and longshot Alabama gubernatorial candidate Kay Ivy. But two recent Romney endorsements (again, of people who endorsed Mitt in 2008) have drawn national attention: embattled incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah (a Romney hotbed, for obvious reasons), for whom conservatives have long knives out, and then state Rep. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, a big favorite of the right-wing blogosphere.
Meanwhile, Tim Pawlenty, after doing the Right thing by endorsing conservative Doug Hoffmann in a red-hot New York special election last year, announced he would eschew further interventions in competitive Republican primaries. But he made an exception for John McCain, presumably after ensuring he would receive cover for this step from Palin and Romney.
If Hayworth manages to beat McCain, he won’t owe any 2012 candidates a thing. But there are plenty of other competitive primaries later this year where the presidentials haven’t weighed in, and the chess game of endorsements will be very interesting.

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