Snowe Staying Put
In the days since Senator Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party, much has been made of the fact that Maine Senators Snowe and Collins appear to be the last of the Senate Republican moderates. Snowe in particular has emerged as a lonely voice arguing for the preservation of the party's more moderate wing.
The day after the defection, Snowe wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times lamenting the "devaluation of diversity" within her party and comparing herself to a reality show contestant about to be voted off on island.
"It is true that being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of “Survivor” — you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you’re no longer welcome in the tribe," wrote Snowe.
This led to some speculation both nationally and here in Maine that Snowe might be considering changing parties herself. Jeff Inglis, managing editor of the Portland Phoenix, for instance, wrote a blog post minutes after the switch titled "Will Snowe and Collins Leave the GOP?"
There are some in the Republican Party who would be happy to see them go, and not just right-wing bloggers and cable news pundits. Even national GOP Chairman Michael Steele recently threatened Snowe and Collins with political retribution and primary challenges for voting in favor the stimulus package. In Maine, Dean Scontras, an unsuccessful District 1 congressional candidate and now head of "The Republican Project" wrote on his blog that Snowe seems to be "way out of touch with the pulse of her party here in Maine" and that "the rank-and-file are outraged because she seems not to be the least bit fiscally conservative."
Despite this chatter, the chances of Snowe switching parties have to be considered to be pretty thin. Where Specter was facing a tough primary and general election in 2010, Snowe is now a state institution, sailed to her last win with 74% of the vote, and won't be up for election again until 2012.
She also faces a very different Republican primary electorate. Unlike Pennsylvania, where the Republican ranks have been reduced to a conservative core, Maine's Republicans holds a much wider range of views and have a long history of backing moderate politicians. Where Specter required the full efforts of national Republicans like President Bush and Senator Santorum to pull him across the finish line of his last primary (and might need Governor Rendell and President Obama to win his next), Snowe doesn't need (or necessarily want) the support of party heavyweights from either camp. Maine voters seem to prefer independents who can stand on their own.
In addition to a lack of local political factors that might motivate Snowe to move across the aisle, few national considerations beyond her own ideology and the receptiveness of her own party would suggest a shift either. She currently stands astride the partisan gap in Washington and has the ability to cast the filibuster-breaking vote on a wide range of legislation and, when she chooses, lend an important bipartisan sheen to Democratic bills, something she would lose as a Democrat. She would also have to weigh the possible loss of her seniority.
Snowe has also repeatedly insisted that she plans to stick with the GOP for the long haul. Of course, so did Specter.
For the moment, Snowe and Collins hold membership in an exclusive and shrinking club of Republican moderates. The Democrats will continue to court their votes and some Republicans seem to have been spooked enough by Specter to step up their efforts to do the same. The same day her Op-Ed was published, Snowe was invited to a one-on-one meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in order to discuss the future of the party.
That may be the political equivalent of an immunity idol.
In other Maine political news this week...
The new state budget proposal is being debated and modified by the Appropriations Committee.
The Maine House voted to downsize itself and reduce the number of Representatives by 20.
Mother and daughter Pingree teamed up to fight toxins.
State employee names and salaries will remain available to the public.
Early bird Matt Jacobson made his official announcement for governor.