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Palin Endorses Branstad. Hmmmmm.

In a move that startled Iowa Republicans and may have even come as a surprise to its beneficiary, Sarah Palin endorsed Terry Branstad, the ultimate Establishment Republican, for governor in next Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial primary.

Palin's endorsement of the former four-term governor came as a rude shock to supporters of his main rival, social conservative ultra Bob Vander Plaats, who recently harvested an endorsement from James Dobson, and had labored hard to frame the primary as a choice between a "true conservative" and a quasi-RINO.

Many observers immediately framed Palin's surprise gambit as an insult to the Tea Party Movement, much like her endorsements of Carly Fiorina in California and Vaughan Ward in Idaho.

But I'm one who has always maintained that Palin's true base (long before there was any such thing as a Tea Party Movement) is social conservatives focused on abortion and gay marriage, and that's what makes the Branstand endorsement surprising. The religious right in Iowa deeply mistrusts Branstad for choosing a pro-choice Lieutenant Governor (Joy Corning, who served in Branstad's third and fourth terms), for appointing two of the state Supreme Court judges who legalized same-sex marriage last year, and in general, for not seeming to care about their priorities. One major social conservative group, the Iowa Family PAC, has gone so far as to say it would refuse to support Branstad if he won the Republican nomination.

So what's Palin up to, particularly if, as it appears, Branstad wasn't exactly hanging around Wasilla begging for her support?

Nobody knows for sure, but I think Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic's entirely logical in guessing that Palin thinks Branstad's going to win anyway, and would like to have a special friend in Des Moines in case she does decide to run for president in 2012. I might add that Vander Plaats is very closely associated with Mike Huckabee, Palin's potential rival for the hard-core conservative vote. Moreover, Branstad's prior Big Dog Republican backer is Mitt Romney, and Palin would probably have some grounds for asking Branstad to stay neutral if both of them are running around Iowa next year.

Never a dull moment for Palin watchers, eh?



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