Incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s stunning setback in Alaska sends a powerful message to political insiders in both parties: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is now the GOP’s clear No. 1 kingmaker

Political pundits suggest the outcome elevates Palin to unique status within the Republican Party.

“Clearly Sarah Palin is the most influential Republican in America,” Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax. “That much is clear as the primary season winds down. And Palin clearly is the candidate who will generate the most enthusiasm if she runs in 2012.”

***
Asked his opinion of Palin in an interview with the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a newspaper that covers parts of southern Indiana, Daniels said Palin has a “potentially positive” role in the GOP but added: “Let’s wait and see.”

“She clearly reaches and energizes some people who hadn’t been active before,” Daniels said. “That’s always a good thing, whoever brings that up. She is an appealing figure, at least to a number of people.”

***
Whether Miller wins or not, Palin has already won. She didn’t go all out for Miller but she worked for him more than a lot of her other endorsed candidates, promoting his candidacy but also tearing down his opponent. Palin can take some credit for a portion of his good showing. There are other reasons, too. Miller had Tea Party funding and support. He also probably benefited from a ballot initiative that brought out conservative voters who wanted the state to notify the parents of young women getting abortions.

Palin now has more support for a favorite story line of hers: The pundits and so-called experts said things were going to go one way but she had faith; she knew the real deal. This is part of her larger pitch: that she understands something fundamental about conservative voters. That, in turn, is what voters believe about her, which makes them think she has a special light to guide the country out of the muck. How much real power Palin has to change minds or give candidates she endorses helpful exposure is still a big question. She may just be good at picking winners. But the Palin brand now grows ever stronger because other Republicans will want to access that magic. Even if they don’t believe it really exists, they have to pretend it does or risk winding up like Lisa Murkowski. If she ever decides to run for president, her opponents will have to treat her very gently.

***
If Joe Miller wins, as it looks like he will (pending absentee ballots), it will prove to be a huge advance for the conservative cause. And it will be an advance due almost entirely to Sarah Palin. Bravo to Sarah Barracuda!

***