Call them skirttails — volunteer numbers have skyrocketed, fundraising has picked up and even the polling shows closer races in some down-ticket congressional contests as Republicans say the effects of “Palin Power” are being felt across the country.
After Republican presidential candidate John McCain tapped Sarah Palin nearly two weeks ago to be his running mate, the requests started rolling in for her to campaign with House and Senate candidates, and they haven’t stopped yet. In the meantime, the number of Republicans looking to volunteer for the party’s national victory effort jumped 500 percent that first weekend, and congressional candidates say they’ve seen the enthusiasm bleed all the way down to their level.
“Our campaign phones are ringing off the hook, and we’re getting a lot more calls, a lot more e-mails with volunteers, [saying], ‘How can we see Sarah Palin? How can we get her to Virginia?’” said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who is running for re-election. “Any doubts about where the Republican base is going to be have been erased.”
Even with scrutiny of Mrs. Palin reaching saturation levels in the national press, Republicans can’t get enough of her — and are showing their support in donations, manpower and other measures of enthusiasm.
Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told his House colleagues in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that their online fundraising neared $250,000 during convention week, and the Republican Senate committee reported a jump from telemarketing — from about $20,000 on a typical weekend to $54,000 the weekend that Mrs. Palin was selected.
“She is a game-changer for the presidential. We believe she’s a game-changer for all of our Senate races,” said Rebecca Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, who said the requests for Mrs. Palin to campaign with Senate candidates are rolling in.
“We’ve gotten a lot of requests,” Mrs. Fisher said. “They’re saying, ‘We would love to have her in our state to help.’”
Political scientists have long debated coattails, the theory that a presidential candidate’s popularity can help pull House and Senate members into office along with the top of the ticket. Now they will have to add vice-presidential candidates to the question.
Democrats, though, say they’re seeing the beginnings of reverse-tails.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s campaign reported an anti-Palin fundraising surge of $10 million raised in the 23 hours between the time she finished her speech to the Republican National Convention and the next night, when Mr. McCain spoke.
Speaking in Riverside, Ohio, on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said Mrs. Palin has certainly gotten attention.
“She has been on the minds of all of you, and as a consequence has been before the American people constantly for the last week and has brought excitement to the Republican Party. There’s no doubt about that,” he told reporters, adding that her real test is still to come. “I think that what we’re going to have to do is to see how things settle out over the next few weeks, when people start examining, who’s actually going to deliver on the issues that people care about?”
A Democratic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more than $600,000 during the week of the Democrats’ convention and raised nearly $300,000 during Republicans’ convention — both more than what the NRCC was able to raise during the Palin surge.
That official and others said Mrs. Palin could actually hurt Republicans running in some districts, particularly in suburban areas where Democrats say her pro-life stance and other positions may be at odds with the independent and suburban female voters whom both campaigns are targeting.
In one recent instance, a group of 75 women wrote a letter to Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, saying his praise of Mrs. Palin would hurt him.
“To the women of the 10th District, there is nothing encouraging about Palin’s extreme political views, including her opposition to a woman’s right to choose even in the cases of incest and rape, equal pay for equal work, and gun control. Nor is her support for abstinence-only sex education, teaching creationism in our schools and banning books from our public libraries,” the women wrote in their letter, though some of their claims such as book banning have been discredited by political fact-checking organizations.
For now, there are more questions than answers about Mrs. Palin’s effect on the fate of Republicans in specific down-ticket races.
This week, several new polls showed Senate races closer than they used to be. In at least one of those contests — in Alaska, where Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, is facing a bruising re-election battle — Mrs. Palin is being given credit.
Mr. Stevens has closed a more than 15-point gap to enter into a statistical tie with his Democratic challenger, Mark Begich, and in a polling memo, his campaign said that’s partly because enthusiasm after Mrs. Palin’s selection “has gone through the roof.”
But Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that race also exposes the problems for Mrs. Palin. Mr. Stevens faces trial on federal charges of not reporting gifts he received, and Mrs. Palin has not yet said whether she backs Mr. Stevens’ bid for re-election.
There’s not much question Republicans see Mrs. Palin’s popularity as nothing but positive, and they are rushing to try to transfer some of it to themselves.
On the NRCC’s Web site, www.nrcc.org, on Tuesday, the rotating splash photos on the main page included one of Mrs. Palin, but Mr. McCain was nowhere to be seen.
And they say the shot of enthusiasm extends up and down the line.
When coupled with House Republicans’ monthlong demonstration in August occupying the floor of the adjourned House chamber, Mr. Cantor said Mrs. Palin’s selection has House Republicans sky-high.
“We have not had a string of weeks of positive momentum like this in years. Maybe it’s not all due to her, but she has been a real motivating force,” Mr. Cantor said.