In her announcement that she will not seek the GOP nomination for president this year, Sarah Palin vowed to remain influential in the process saying, "You don't need a title to make a difference." In her case that may be true, but for her grassroots supporters, likely to scatter to a host of other candidates, it's unlikely they will be able to do the same.
"These supporters are likely to splinter into different camps and that means that as a decentralized force, they are going to lose a lot of steam and impact," one Republican strategist said.
A Washington Post/ ABC News Poll released Tuesday showed that Palin's supporters spread themselves among a slew of different candidates including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul and Rep. Michelle Bachmann.
Unless Palin supporters moved as a group to another candidate, Republican pollster Kristin Soltis says, it is unlikely second-tier candidates such as Bachmann, Santorum or Gingrich are going to see any benefit from Palin staying out of the race. [Vote now: Who Will Sarah Palin Fans Support for 2012?]
If all would have gravitated toward just one candidate, we might have seen someone make that move from second-tier to frontrunner. Now, it is going to be up to struggling candidates to improve their messages in order to move up."
Brian Donahue,a GOP strategist and former Bush-Cheney campaign director says that while Palin fans aren't loyal to one candidate, many are viewing Herman Cain as the one who embodies the spirit of Palin.
"Supporters are going to go to different candidates, but Sarah Palin identified herself as the "buck the system" candidate, and if they are looking for someone to carry that banner, they are going to be looking at Cain." The businessman is an outsider in the political arena who has been able to garner support with strong debate performances and understandable, catchy economic slogans like his "9-9-9" plan.
However, despite fans adoring Palin's anti-establishment, socially conservative mojo, Soltis says in the wrecked economy, even a more moderate candidate like Romney can appeal to voters looking for strong economic messaging. "In one sense, it is counter intuitive to think Palin supporters would ever vote for Romney, but that comes with the assumption that the issues that most resonate with voters are social issues. That just isn't true in this election. Mitt Romney's focus on jobs transcends the ideological flavors of the GOP Party."
Tony Reynolds, the author of The Sarah Palin Rogue Revolution: Taking America by Storm says her supporters are devastated by the news she's not running and are feeling torn about who they will support now. For the strongest supporters, Donahue says, a Palin endorsement is going to be worth a candidate's weight in gold.
"They are loyal to her and they are going to follow whoever she says she believes in," he says.