(CNN) – Sarah Palin sided with another "Mama Grizzly" in a prominent Republican primary on Monday, endorsing Kelly Ayotte for Senate in New Hampshire.
The endorsement is Palin's first political move in the state, which will once again hold the first-in-the-nation Republican presidential primary in February 2012. She has already backed midterm candidates in the other key early states of Iowa and South Carolina, but has not visited New Hampshire since the 2008 presidential race.
Ayotte, the state's Attorney General until last year, has three opponents in the GOP primary, but the race has shaped up as a battle between her and Bill Binnie, a millionaire businessman who has given more than $3 million to his own campaign.
"Kelly is the strongest commonsense conservative who can win in the fall," Palin wrote on her Facebook page. "I knew I liked her when I met her earlier this year, and I know this Granite Grizzly will represent New Hampshire with distinction in Washington."
Palin's endorsement is somewhat of a surprise, given Ayotte's sometimes troubled relationship with conservative activists in the Granite State. She won the early backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, earning her a reputation as the "establishment" figure in the race.
Having Palin's backing could fix all that, according to several top Republicans in the state.
"This is exactly what Kelly needs to get things moving," said Mike Dennehy, a Republican strategist who is not working for any candidate in the race. "Kelly is having problems in the conservative movement and she is seen as a consummate insider, having been endorsed and handpicked by the Senatorial committee. She seems establishment, and I think this Palin endorsement will kill both of those negatives with one stone."
The Palin touch might also throw the candidate's positions on social issues into stark relief. Ayotte, for instance, opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Binnie supports abortion rights and says the marriage issue should be left to the states.
Granite State voters have a well-earned reputation for political independence, but the state's Republican primary voters are just as conservative as in other regions of the country, according to one New Hampshire GOP insider.
"New Hampshire Republican primary voters are a much more conservative electorate than people realize," said the Republican. "Palin is well-liked by primary voters, but in terms of the general electorate of the state, I'm not sure where she stands."
Another top Republican strategist in the state, who is already doing work for one of Palin's potential rivals in 2012, told CNN that if Ayotte wins the nomination, it will be a "huge boost" for Palin if she decides to seek the Republican presidential nod.
But the strategist said the endorsement "is not really going to make a difference in terms of 2012 until Palin comes up here and starts talking to people and shaking hands."
"She is popular among the base, but among rank-and-file Republicans I would say there is still a little bit of skepticism," the strategist said. "They have an expectation of knowing people, so she has got to come here and work it."