By PHILIP ELLIOTT
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 4:57 PM
WASHINGTON -- It's been a summer of setbacks for Sarah Palin. Candidate "cubs" endorsed by the Mama Grizzly in Chief have been suffering a recent string of primary election losses.
The Republicans' 2008 vice presidential nominee promised a pack of "mama grizzly" candidates would rise up and defeat Democrats in this November's elections. But office-seekers she supported in Kansas and Washington state lost their primaries despite her high-profile endorsements. And Karen Handel lost her runoff contest for Georgia governor a day after sharing an Atlanta stage with Palin.
Now, Alaska's Senate primary on Tuesday is shaping up as an embarrassing defeat in her own backyard. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is expected to dispatch the challenger Palin has endorsed in the Republican contest.
Palin says it isn't about picking winners.
"Regardless of whether the many candidates I've had the honor of endorsing win or lose this time around, I support them because they boldly shake things up in their primary races," she said in a Facebook message.
Her choices have included a mix of tea party favorites and other antiestablishment figures.
- She backed former Super Bowl champion Clint Didier over establishment-recruited Dino Rossi in Washington state's GOP Senate primary. Didier lost on Tuesday.
- She supported staunchly conservative Rep. Todd Tiahrt in the Kansas GOP Senate primary. He was defeated by Rep. Jerry Moran on Aug. 3.
- And she's going with former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte over wealthy businessmen Bill Binnie and Jim Bender in the state's Sept. 14 Senate primary - a move that drew a page one rebuke in the state's largest newspaper.
"The race will be won by the candidate who impresses New Hampshire voters, and New Hampshire voters are rarely impressed by what outsiders have to say," wrote New Hampshire Union Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid.
Indeed, frustration with Palin has seemed to be growing, as she has waded into state races and challenged the national party's preferred candidates. She has defied Republican campaign committees' picks in favor of longshots, such as investor Brian Murphy in Maryland. Murphy is running against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich in the Sept. 14 primary.
Ehrlich publicly brushed off that surprise endorsement, saying it was "not terribly relevant to anything that we've planned to do or are going to do."
Palin remains a unifying figure - for Democrats.
She is a favorite target of mockery for her messages on Twitter using colorful language such as "cackle of rads" and "refudiate."
EMILY's List, a political organization that aims to elect women who back abortion rights, this week launched a "Sarah Doesn't Speak for Me" campaign in the hopes of building its membership as well as painting Palin's candidates as extremists.
"We didn't want Sarah Palin's voice to go unchallenged," said Stephanie Schriock, the organization's president.
The group recorded a Web video of women dressed as bears who repeated similar themes.
Palin responded - by Facebook, of course - with the folksy sarcasm that her supporters find refreshing and her detractors find grating.
"First, ladies, it's hard to take a critic seriously when they lecture you wearing a bear suit," Palin said, following that with a putdown invoking two of her five children.
"I'd love to know where you got those get-ups. Halloween is just around the corner, and Piper and Trig would look adorable as little grizzly bears."
She's joined another presidential prospect, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, in backing Joe Miller's longshot challenge to Republican Sen. Murkowski in Tuesday's Alaska primary. Miller is also endorsed by the Tea Party Express, a California-based group that's been hitting the airwaves and holding rallies. That group claims at least partial credit for upset wins in other states - Sharron Angle in Nevada and Mike Lee in Utah.
In Alaska, the tea party group has drawn smaller crowds. And Palin, too, who abruptly resigned the governor's office in 2009, enjoys limited reach in her home state. A Dittman Research poll in April found just 46 percent of Alaskans with favorable opinions of Palin.
"I would expect Sarah's going to be very embarrassed by the results Tuesday," said Republican pollster Marc Hellenthal, who is not involved in the primary. "She's been delivering everybody else's state but she won't be able to deliver her own."
Palin's endorsements apparently did help South Carolina's Nikki Haley capture her gubernatorial nomination in June and Rand Paul capture Kentucky's Senate nomination in May. And her backing has proved helpful to Republican candidates trying to assure voters they are sufficiently conservative: former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina who is challenging Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in California, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry who turned back a primary challenge from GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
She also has appeared with Sen. John McCain, whose presidential bid elevated her to the national stage and whose re-election bid drew tea party favorite J.D. Hayworth to Tuesday's Arizona primary.
But Palin has seen victory in just two competitive Republican primaries this month: John Koster's U.S. House bid in Washington state and Tom Emmer's "hockey dad" bid for Minnesota governor.
Her star power wasn't enough to help Colorado lawyer Bob McConnell earn the nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. John Salazar, nor did it give a win to Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who was vying to become her state's first female governor.
"Are you ready to elect a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, commonsense constitutional conservative, who will fight like a mama grizzly for you and the values that you hold dear?" Palin asked a cheering crowd in a hotel ballroom on the eve of the Aug. 10 runoff.
"The eyes of the nation are on you, Georgia, to see if you get rid of that good ol' boy network," Palin said.
Handel - and Palin, by proxy - fell short to former Rep. Nathan Deal.
Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.
I have to admit, while I liked the EMILY'S LIST commercial, it did make itself a little too easy to make fun of, even for Palin