Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is the top religion newsmaker of 2010, say USA Today readers.
In a poll featured in USA Today’s Religion and Reason blog, readers selected the Tea Party leader as the top religious newsmaker out of six other choices. Palin, who spent most of the year campaigning for GOP candidates such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, received 26 percent of the vote. The poll’s results upset Religion Newswriters Association’s pick for newsmaker of the year – Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf.
Rauf, who is the force behind the effort to build an Islamic center blocks from New York City’s Ground Zero, tied for second place with Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict spent most of the year trying to dissolve troubles stemming from molestation charges against Catholic priests. Both religious leaders took 23 percent of the vote.
The remaining candidates – political commentator and Mormon Glenn Beck, evangelical the Rev. Franklin Graham and one-time Wiccan O’Donnell – all received less than 10 percent of the vote.
Graham made news for praying outside the Pentagon after being denied the opportunity to pray at its National Day of Prayer service because of remarks he made earlier against Islam and Hinduism, and later for making a relief trip to Haiti with Palin. He received 7 percent of the vote.
Though Palin is not a religious figure per se, her ranking by readers as the top religion newsmaker seems to mirror the large amounts of press coverage she’s been receiving from her exploits since her time as the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate.
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Since GOP presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain lost the 2008 election, Palin has published two books, Going Rogue and America by Heart.
She has also made a name for herself as a Tea Party speaker. Palin used her pro-life, pro-family stances to rally party members around unknown GOP candidates for the November elections. She also used money raised through her political action committee to financially back several GOP campaigns, according to Associated Press reports.
According to polls conducted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, over half of Tea Party members also consider themselves conservative evangelicals. Palin herself has professed to be a Christian.
She also has a television show called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on cable network TLC. The reality show’s Nov. 14 premiere holds the network’s most- watched series premiere in its history. The show’s ratings are irregular but still high, according to Nielsen ratings.
As 2011 edges close, Palin is rumored to be considering a political run for president. She said in a Fox News broadcast that she would run if no one stepped up.
With all of her media sightings, Palin nearly stole the top spot in Gallup Poll’s most admired woman of the year category. She came in a close second to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton, who won the spot 15 times before, garnered 17 percent of the vote. Palin received 12 percent of the vote.
In response to Palin’s upset, Religion and Reason’s beat reporter, Cathy Lynn Grossman, is currently hosting a runoff vote between the first and second place spots.
“I'm curious,” she writes. “Palin sailed past the most influential and controversial religious leaders in 2010, what would happen if I eliminated the [other candidates].”
O’Donnell, Beck and Graham were removed from the list for the new vote. The final vote features Palin, Benedict and Rauf. With 1192 votes cast, Benedict is leading the pack by 43 percent as of 5:30 p.m. ET. Palin has 38 percent of the vote and Rauf has 20 percent.