From the tea party's standpoint, Sarah Palin still has enough political power to affect the midterm elections, while Democrats see her influence as greatly waning.
Scottie Nell Hughes, news director for the Tea Party News Network, and Democratic strategist Ben Wikler took strong opposing positions on the role Palin will play in the midterms during a panel discussion with J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV.
Hughes, who is on a bus tour with the tea party, says Palin's popularity is still strong enough to have a profound impact on the elections.
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"Her name definitely has enough clout to wow voters," Hughes said. "That's why people are begging for her to endorse them. And if she did not still have the power to bring voters and bring supporters and bring dollars, then she wouldn't even be involved. She would just go back to Alaska, deal with her reality show, and write her book.
"But she knows that she has to put boots on the ground. I'm here in Iowa. If I went out into this crowd that I'm looking at here at the rally and said the name Sarah Palin, I guarantee you she would still get a standing ovation."
Wikler said that while her name might still generate applause in certain pockets of the country, that popularity hasn't translated into election victories for the candidates she has endorsed.
"The half-term governor of Alaska at this point is a human bridge to nowhere," Wikler said. "I'm sorry to say the people that are following her are heading into total political irrelevance. You can see that with the candidates that she's endorsing.
"Her endorsee [Julianne Ortman] is not going to beat Al Franken this fall. The joke is on the people that are donating to Sarah PAC, whose money isn't actually going out to candidates at all.
"Like so many tea party organizations at this point, they're stacking dollars and spending it on direct mail consultant fees and the lifestyle of the so-called leadership that are very much enjoying to just dabble around but aren't actually winning elections," Wikler said.
Hughes took exception to Wikler's implication that the tea party is swindling its financial supporters.
"The tea party is working, and does it take money to sit there and do bus tours? Hands down," Hughes said. "But at least we're upfront about it, unlike the Democrats who use their dollars to go buy off voters."
In terms of Palin's now being viewed nationally as a divisive figure, Wikler said the Democratic Party has little to do with shaping that image.
"There is no amount of pressure that can force someone to play the Ann Coulter card, to go to the NRA convention and announce that they support water-board baptism for terrorists," he said.
"That's a divisiveness that comes directly from her heart and soul, and it paints a beautiful picture for America about what kind of choice they're facing. Do they want people that are intentionally cheering on torture and trying to make that America's public image?"
Wikler also dismissed the results of a Washington Post/ABC News Poll
showing a majority of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama. He said that in terms of midterm impact, he fully expects Republicans to squander the advantage polling seems to indicate they have.
"The Republican Party has this incredible ability to not only put its foot in its mouth but to put its whole leg in its mouth and just turn off the American people," Wikler said. "I'm ready for that, and Sarah Palin is actually greasing the skids, making the way ready for her fellow tea party Republicans to just show America what they're made of and give them a chance to vote their real beliefs on election day."
While Hughes agreed to a point, she countered that Palin's rhetoric is the strong leadership Republicans need ahead of the election.
"What you have to realize, Sarah Palin, whatever she says, she's smart," Hughes said. "She knows what she's saying, and while, yes, it might inflame every Democrat progressive under the sun, that's what she wants to do. It is our side that she energizes."
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