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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Former Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has been busy. She's played an active role in primaries across the country this year. She's endorsed Republican candidates in many races, some well known, some not so. And so far, she's picked far more winners than losers. Yesterday she scored especially well.

As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, Palin's choices are based both on ideology and practicality.

DON GONYEA: Among all Americans according to a recent Washington Post poll, only 37 percent say they have a favorable impression of Sarah Palin. But among Republicans, it jumps to 66 percent and that number is what makes a Sarah Palin endorsement a big deal to candidates in the GOP primaries.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Republican, Former Alaska Governor): So I figured, yeah, let me swing by and give a shout out to a strong pro-family, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-development, conservative reformer, your next governor, Nikki Haley.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: That boost from Palin helped South Carolina gubernatorial hopefully Nikki Haley rise to the top of a crowded field. Palin also stuck by Haley when allegations of sexual affairs threatened to derail her campaign. In yesterday's voting, while Haley didn't quite manage to avoid a runoff election, she did finish first by a wide margin. Palin has often looked for female candidates to endorse, as she put it in a speech last month to the conservative Susan B. Anthony List in Washington, where she coined the phrase mama grizzlies.

Ms. PALIN: You know, if you thought pitbulls were tough, well, you don't want to mess with the mama grizzlies. And I think there are a whole lot of those in this room.

GONYEA: One of the so-called mama grizzlies Palin endorsed that day was Carly Fiorina. She chose the former Hewlett-Packard CEO over a Tea Party candidate. Fiorina won yesterday's Republican Senate primary in California.

Palin doesn't always make her choice known in a big speech like that. Sometimes she does it via Twitter or other social media.

Here's how´┐ŻIowa gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad got the news last week. He was at a small campaign event when someone handed him a note.

Mr. TERRY BRANSTAD (Iowa Gubernatorial Candidate): I never expected this. Sarah Palin just endorsed us on Facebook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

GONYEA: At the time Branstad already had a double-digit lead in polls across Iowa and went on to win easily over a strong social conservative who may have seemed a more likely ideological choice for Palin. If Branstad wins the governorship in the fall, he'll be an important player when GOP presidential hopefuls start visiting Iowa in advance of the 2012 caucuses.

Yesterday, there was a loss for Palin. In Arkansas, she picked an underdog in a runoff election in the state's 3rd Congressional District. There have been other defeats as well, but mostly it's been success for Palin picks this year. And Republican political strategist Mark McKinnon says candidates have noticed.

Mr. MARK MCKINNON (Republican Political Strategist): And in reality, in today's political environment, endorsements mean less and less, and hers seem to mean more and more.

GONYEA: And McKinnon says Palin is challenging her own core supporters with some of the endorsements she's made. When she backed Carly Fiorina in California, Palin's Facebook page lit up with complaints that Fiorina isn't conservative enough. Palin countered by calling Fiorina pro-life, a gun rights supporter and, compared to the rest of California, indeed a conservative.

Mr. MCKINNON: I don't think that a year ago - I don't think six months ago Sarah Palin would've endorsed Carly Fiorina. And I think today she recognizes that by doing that, it just gives her a broader platform, more power and more influence.

GONYEA: And McKinnon says Palin knows something else: that it's important to back winners. Now, all of this is playing out in Republican primaries, where Palin is a popular figure. Things will get much more complicated as we head into the general elections in November.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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