In GOP primaries across the country this year, Sarah Palin's backing has proven to be a game-changer for underdog candidates. But even by Palin's standards, her endorsement on Thursday of little-known Maryland businessman Brian Murphy over former Governor Bob Ehrlich in the state's gubernatorial primary qualified as a shocker. Across the Web, bewildered pundits struggled to make sense of the maneuver:

  • Reckless  Politics Daily's conservative writer Matt Lewis struggled to understand the politics behind the endorsement. "Having been raised in Maryland," writes Lewis, "I think it's probably safe to say that Ehrlich is as good as it gets. He may not be the perfect conservative, but he is likely the only Republican who can win in November." Palin's announcement, he argues, speaks to the political damage that can be done when "well-intentioned national figures don't fully understand parochial nuances before they endorse." Best to see the Murphy endorsement as a cautionary tale, Lewis suggests, a reminder to politicos that "their backing can have unintended consequences."

  • Bizarre   The Washington Post's Aaron Blake deemed Murphy "perhaps [Palin's] most quixotic endorsement to date." He suggests the limited importance of the Maryland presidential primary "could have a lot to do with the potential presidential candidate's pick." By backing an outsider like Murphy in Maryland, Blake argues she's attempting to bolster anti-establishment credential after making safer picks in Iowa and South Carolina. "It's pretty clear that she's willing to go out on a limb in certain areas," admits Blake, "but where it counts, she has often made the right pick. This pick is pretty clearly in the former category."

  • To What End?  Paul Mirengoff of the conservative blog PowerLine thinks "it's cool that Sarah Palin is endorsing candidates in Republican primaries all over the country," but doesn't understand why she entered the fray in Maryland. "Ehrlich is the obvious choice, unless Ehrlich himself is a liberal," he writes. It all reeks of political cynicism. "Perhaps if Maryland were holding an early presidential caucus in 2012, as Iowa is, Palin would have deemed Ehrlich a 'commonsense conservative' worthy of her endorsement."

  • Limited Impact  Josh Kraushaar of Hot Line concedes the move was Palin's "most surprising endorsement of the election cycle", but wonders if it might be a blessing-in-disguise for the moderate Ehrlich. "Keep in mind," says Kraushaar, "Ehrlich had taken some shots at Palin." In a traditionally blue state like Maryland, Palin's support is "not a political asset" and "any distance [from Palin] will help [Ehrlich] in a general election."