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The 2012 presidential hopefuls and the primary endorsement game

By Felicia Sonmez

Now that the 2010 primary season is officially over, we decided to take a look at how some of the potential Republican White House hopefuls fared in their endorsements (or non-endorsements) in the cycle's most competitive GOP primaries.

While endorsements frequently garner plenty of attention, their actual impact is hard to gauge. As we break down in the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy -- our attempt at cataloging the various types of endorsements out there and their relative importance (or lack thereof) -- sometimes endorsements can be political game-changers, and sometimes they make little difference.

That said, our analysis of the endorsements by 2012ers this cycle brought some surprises (one potential White House hopeful did not endorse any women in the 20 races we looked at) as well as some, well, non-surprises (Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), as promised, stayed out of nearly every competitive intra-party battle.)

Before checking out our round-up of the most interesting findings, a couple of caveats:

1) We only looked at 20 of what we considered to be the most competitive GOP Senate and gubernatorial primaries. The full list of races we looked at includes the competitive Senate primaries in Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Nevada and Washington as well as the gubernatorial primaries in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.

2) We also only took a look at five potential 2012ers: Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R).

And now, without further ado, our look at the primary endorsement battle that was:

Most endorsements

In the 20 most competitive Senate and gubernatorial primary races, Palin made the most endorsements, backing a total of 14 candidates before their primaries. (Palin also praised former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio before his rival, Gov. Charlie Crist (I), left the GOP primary, but she did not make a formal endorsement).

DeMint was the runner-up, with endorsements of ten candidates in the 20 competitive races we looked at.

Huckabee made eight endorsements in primaries and one of a candidate after a primary but before a competitive runoff. (That came in Georgia where Huckabee backed former Rep. Nathan Deal who went on to win the gubernatorial runoff.)

Romney backed six candidates in primaries. He also endorsed Deal's rival, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel between the primary and the runoff.

Pawlenty made the least primary endorsements; he only backed one candidate, Oklahoma gubernatorial nominee Mary Fallin (R), before her primary victory. And, Fallin was long considered a heavy favorite in that race.

Biggest winner

The award for the most successful endorsement record technically goes to Pawlenty, who saw 100 percent of his endorsed candidates win. (Fallin won her party's nomination outright on July 27.)

But considering that Pawlenty wasn't exactly in the endorsement game, the true winner was Palin, who saw ten of her 14 endorsed candidates win.

DeMint was the runner-up: six of his 10 endorsed candidates won their primaries. Then came Romney, who backed seven candidates (including Handel), four of whom went on to victory.

Huckabee had the worst record of the five. Of the nine candidates he endorsed (including Deal), only three won their primaries.

Most post-primary endorsements

Romney leads the pack when it comes to endorsing candidates after their primaries: he's backed 12 so far.

Pawlenty comes next with eight post-primary endorsements (not a surprise, since he waited out most intra-party battles).

The other White House hopefuls trail behind: Palin has made one endorsement post-primary (Colorado Senate nominee Ken Buck) and one more seems likely (Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle). DeMint has made two (Miller and Angle), while Huckabee has made just one (Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul).

Most endorsements of female candidates

Not surprisingly, Palin made the most endorsements of women candidates in competitive primaries: she backed eight women in the midst of contentious races.

Romney was next with endorsements of two women in primaries (South Carolina state Rep. Nikki Haley and Handel), although he backed several others after their primaries were over.

DeMint and Pawlenty each endorsed one woman in a primary (DeMint for Delaware Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, Pawlenty for Fallin).

One potential White House candidate -- Huckabee -- did not endorse any women in the twenty competitive races we looked at.

Hottest/coolest races

There were two competitive primaries in which most potential 2012 candidates declined to get involved until after primary day: the Nevada Senate race among Angle, former state Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden and businessman Danny Tarkanian, and the Colorado Senate primary between Buck and former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. (DeMint was the only one of the five potential White House hopefuls who endorsed in the Colorado race, and no one endorsed in Nevada until after the primary.)

Meanwhile, the California, Florida and Washington Senate primaries and the Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina gubernatorial primaries were the hottest races; at least three potential White House hopefuls backed a candidate in each race.

By Felicia Sonmez  | September 22, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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