Washington: Two weeks before the first nominating contests, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump picked up his biggest endorsement in Sarah Palin even as Bernie Sanders posed a rising challenge to the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Palin announced Tuesday she was backing the billionaire real estate mogul while appearing with Trump at a raucous campaign rally in Iowa, where both parties hold their caucuses on Feb 1.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, a new CNN/WMUR poll found self styled Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders' lead over the former secretary of state on the rise in New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary on February 9.
The Vermont senator was leading the former secretary of state by 27 points, 60 percent to 33 percent - up from his 50-40 lead in early December-in New Hampshire which will see the first actual primary vote unlike Iowa Caucuses, which are essentially party meetings. Handing Trump his most high-profile endorsement yet in front of thousands of his fans, Palin yelled from the stage, "Heads are spinnin'. Media heads are spinning! This is going to be so much fun!"
"Are you ready to make America great again?" she said repeating Trump's campaign slogan in a 20-minute speech filled with Palinisms like "pussy-footin'," "hallelujah" and "you betcha," according to CNN. She hailed Trump as a "compassionate," "refreshing" and "self-made" man who would bring the country back from President Barack Obama's "disastrous tenure."
"We are ready for a change," Palin said. "We are ready, and our troops deserve the best." She also slammed "establishment candidates," without naming names, and praised Trump for "going rogue left and right." Trump said he was "honoured" to pick up Palin's backing, calling her a "special" and "amazing" person.
"This is a woman that, from Day 1, I said, 'If I ever do this, I have to get her support,' " he said.
Palin emerged as a leading voice of the Tea Party movement following the 2008 presidential election and was active during the 2010 midterm campaign, backing dozens of conservative Republican candidates across the country. Meanwhile, a new CNN/WMUR poll mostly conducted before Sunday night's debate, also found 52 percent of New Hampshire Democrats saying they have definitely decided who they will support, up from 36 percent who felt that way in early December.
Among those voters, Sanders holds an even broader 64 percent to 35 percent lead.
But the Vermont senator's support rests heavily on groups whose participation in New Hampshire primaries is less reliable-notably younger voters and those who aren't registered Democrats, CNN said.
Sanders' rise in the poll comes as New Hampshire voters' focus on foreign policy and national security faded from 23 percent to 13 percent and the share of those naming the economy and jobs their top priority climbed from 18 percent to 26 percent.
On the economy, New Hampshire voters now clearly give Sanders 57 percent to 33 percent the edge over Clinton as the candidate more trusted to handle it.
Sanders also has astonishingly high favorability ratings among New Hampshire's Democratic primary voters, and is broadly seen as the candidate with the "personal characteristics and qualities a president should have."
Overall, 91 percent say they have a favourable view of Sanders, while just 2 percent have an unfavourable opinion.
Clinton too is viewed positively by 65 percent, but as many as 55 percent, up from 46 percent in December, consider her as the least honest in the field.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)