02:47 - Source: CNN
She's back! Palin shines during shutdown

Story highlights

"She is the most important endorsement in Republican politics today," GOP consultant says

Republican professionals wish she would disappear back to the Last Frontier

Those around her say Palin was energized by the 16-day partial government shutdown

Palin is now aligning herself with tea party's uncompromising new guard

CNN —  

The Republican establishment can’t stand her. The media mocks her. But Sarah Palin isn’t going anywhere.

Far from it.

After laying low for much of this year, Palin is gingerly stepping back into the public arena with a national book tour, a trip to the always-important political state of Iowa, and an eye on making yet another series of splashy endorsements in a variety of competitive Republican primaries.

Five years after rocketing from Alaska obscurity to worldwide fame, Palin wants to be a political player in 2014.

Which raises the question: Does she still matter?

“She is the most important endorsement in Republican politics today, by far,” said Sal Russo, a Republican consultant who co-founded the Tea Party Express, a group that has booked Palin to speak at numerous public events dating back to the 2010 midterm cycle. “She can move the needle in a primary more than anyone else can.”

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Her detractors see things differently.

After flirting with a presidential bid and stirring up a tidal wave of media attention in the run-up to the 2012 Iowa caucuses, with a slew of punchy speeches and a madcap bus tour of historical sites along the East Coast, Palin eventually decided to pass on a shot at the White House.

When her presidential potential evaporated, a number of Republicans said, so did her relevance.

“I don’t think that she has the juice that she had four years ago, I really don’t,” said Katon Dawson, a GOP fundraiser in South Carolina who runs a Super PAC backing Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate’s batch of endangered old guard Republicans up for re-election in 2014. “She does have a following and when she speaks, people listen. I just don’t know if that voice is as loud or as important as it used to be.”

Dawson said he gives Palin “credit for monetizing her run for vice president,” a backhanded compliment that appropriately sums up the feelings of eye-rolling GOP professionals everywhere, who wish she would disappear back into the frigid wilderness of the Last Frontier.

Palin’s standing as a serious political figure, already tenuous, has seemingly been in decline ever since she decided not to run for president and saw conservatives sidelined as Mitt Romney captured the Republican nomination, only to lose to President Barack Obama.

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Pundit or political player?

In reporting her upcoming speech to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition on November 9, The Des Moines Register this month described her on first reference as “conservative pundit Sarah Palin,” rather than the honorifics usually bestowed on her, “former vice presidential candidate” and “former Alaska governor.”

Contributions to her political action committee, Sarah PAC, tapered off after she passed on a presidential bid. Earlier this year, she publicly parted ways with Fox News, where she had been employed as a paid analyst since 2010 (she re-joined the network five months later).

Palin hasn’t been completely absent from politics in 2013. She issued a range of political pronouncements on her Facebook page, attacking President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, taking particular umbrage at their efforts to scale back gun rights. And in March, she delivered one of the more well-received speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

But she has devoted much of her energies this year to a Christmas-themed book, “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas,” that will release in November and launch her on a multicity book tour through states like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona (the promotional tour also offers her a loophole to appear on other television networks).

It was the 16-day partial government shutdown, a fight sparked by Republican-led efforts to dismantle Obama’s Affordable Care Act, that energized Palin once again, those around her say.

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She has been impressed, one Palin aide said, by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, two tea party stalwarts who helped orchestrate the defund-Obamacare movement that led to the shutdown and set off a new round of establishment-versus-grassroots warfare inside the Republican Party.

“There is a need to step up now,” said one Palin aide who declined to go on the record like most people around her usually do. “She steps up when she sees there is a need. She sees the fire that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have started.”

Palin opened the door last week to helping unseat Graham in South Carolina and a number of other incumbent Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee.

’Going to shake things up’

“We’re going to shake things up in 2014,” Palin wrote on Facebook, still her preferred public megaphone. “Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky – which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi – from sea to shining sea we will not give up. We’ve only just begun to fight.”

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The post, which was “liked” by more than 31,000 of her followers, was rapidly picked up by a range of conservative websites. Palin’s small circle of advisers received an uptick in their usual flood of speaking requests, one adviser said, including from some of the insurgent conservative candidates running for Senate.

One of those who reached out was Chris McDaniel, a state senator from Mississippi gunning to take out six-term Sen. Thad Cochran, a low-key but powerful member of the upper chamber who has served in Washington for more than three decades. McDaniel has already been endorsed by three conservative outfits, the Club For Growth, the Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund, hungry to unseat Cochran.

McDaniel said Palin’s endorsement, if it comes, would be an unquestionable boon, especially in a deep red state like Mississippi, where GOP primaries are dominated by a small-but-motivated base electorate. Even during the high-profile Republican presidential primary of 2012, only about 300,000 people cast ballots. That’s in a state with nearly 2 million registered voters.

“Sarah Palin understands that there is a movement out there of good conservatives and just regular people,” McDaniel told CNN. “She taps into that. We would absolutely welcome her.”