Maine Senator Olympia Snowe To Retire, GOP Senate Hopes In Jeopardy

A Northeastern Republican announces retirement. And GOP hopes for control of the Senate in 2013 become more tenuous.

In a rather surprising move that puts Republican hopes of retaking the Senate in doubt, three-term Maine Senator Olympia Snowe announced late today that she is not running for re-election in 2012:

In a surprise to political observers, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has announced she will not be seeking re-election this year, giving Democrats a potential pick-up opportunity as they try to hold on to control of the U.S. Senate this election season.

“After an extraordinary amount of reflection and consideration, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate,” she said in a statement.

And Snowe cited the increased political “polariziation” as the reason for her retirement.

“As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives.  I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

She continued, “With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.”

Snowe’s move comes as somewhat of a surprise. While she has faced much criticism from the right over the past three years, Snowe’s re-election chances — both in a primary and the General Election — have been looking excellent for the past several months. I’m sure more details will come out, and perhaps the fact that Snowe herself is 65 is reason enough for her to want to retire from public life.

Whatever the reason, though, it strikes me that this is bad news for the Republican Party. Barack Obama won Maine by roughly 120,000 votes in 2008. In the same year,  Susan Collins, another Maine Republican considered to be just as moderate as Snowe, beat her Democratic opponent by nearly 200,000 votes. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the Maine GOP like Collins or Snowe. Does anyone doubt how the 2012 Senate race will turn out?

I’m not Stu Rothenberg or Charlie Cook, but I’d put this seat into a “Lean Democratic” category right now just because of Snowe’s retirement. And that poses a problem for the GOP. Given the current climate, the GOP is likely looking at a 3-4 seat pickup even in the best of all possible worlds. On the other side of the ledger, they are already vulnerable in Massachusetts where Scott Brown faces a challenge from Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren. If they lose Maine and Massachusetts, then the GOP could find its hopes of regaining control of the upper chamber slipping out of its hands.

Update: Maine native and Republican political strategist Matthew Gagnon takes a look at the impact of Snowe’s decision. Suffice it to say that this is a political earthquake of the highest order for Maine politics.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    I wonder if she’s finally noticing the anti-woman bent of her party & decided she can’t fix it from within… It seems pretty clear she could have kept her seat if she wanted.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    This is certainly good news for the Democrats. The Maine Republican party has been taken over by tea party wingnuts. Maybe they can get Christine O’Donnell to move to Maine.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    If the Dems put up a half decent candidate this is definitely in the Lean Dem column. I’m not surprised….. Snowe and her ilk in today’s GOP are becoming rarer than pork chops in synagogues.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Rational people don’t want to participate in GOP politics any more. Are you paying attention James?

  5. @Brummagem Joe:

    I would think that either one of the Democrats that represent Maine in Congress would be interested in this seat. If not, then former Governor Balladuci is a probable candidate

  6. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Snowe’s retirement might just be the gift that keeps on giving for the Democrats in a second Obama term. After getting pushed around a bit by the tea party, Snowe will get the last laugh.

  7. Scott F. says:

    One more moderate Northeastern Republican is gone. After Susan Collins, are there ANY left?

  8. PogueMahone says:

    I’m not Stu Rothenberg or Charlie Cook, but I’d put this seat into a “Lean Democratic” category right now just because of Snowe’s retirement.

    If you were, then I’d dismiss your prognostications forthwith.

  9. Herb says:

    Whatever the reason, though, it strikes me that this is bad news for the Republican Party.

    But good news for the rest of us….

    The Republicans deserve to be in the minority until they get their act together.

  10. Lgbpop says:

    When a weathervane like her is willing to retire rather than seek re-election in Maine, conservatives should take heart. The left has done everything it could to discredit Gov. LePage, yet his support grows. It has done everything to shore up her support, to little avail. Maine voted for Obama because there was no real alternative, really. There has not really been any real, conservative voice in Maine since Jim Longley.

    Perhaps it’s finally time for a forthright conservative to announce for the seat. Maine deserves better, and so does the USA.

  11. Lgbpop says:

    @PogueMahone: I clicked “like” on your post, just cuz I know what your name means!

  12. PogueMahone says:

    @Lgbpop:
    And we should put it to good use. Especially considering St. Paddy’s Day is coming up. 🙂

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Maybe they can get Christine O’Donnell to move to Maine.

    Why not? Alan Keyes tried that in Illinois…we already saw quite a few Tea Party clowns in 2010…we’ll surely see more this year…

    Perhaps it’s finally time for a forthright conservative to announce for the seat. Maine deserves better, and so does the USA.

    Oh yes indeed…a forthright conservative from the Tea Party would be even better…well, not for you…

  14. Liberty60 says:

    From her press release:

    “Ms. Snowe wants to retire to spend more time with her family, and practice holding an aspirin between her knees.”

  15. Snow was facing a primary challenge from a Tea Party backed candidate, Scott D’Amboise. She probably realized there was little point spending months arguing with a crazy person on behalf of a party that openly hates on her at every turn when there’s far more enjoyable things she could be doing.

  16. Tlaloc says:

    The Republicans deserve to be in the minority until they get their act together.

    The problem is that in a two party system if one party commits seppuku the other party has no constraints and is free to descend into utter corruption (see 2008 and the sudden Dem embrace of torture/rendition, thanks Barry!).

  17. Herb says:

    @Tlaloc: Yes, that will probably happen. And when it does, I will enjoy voting for Republicans to counter the Dem overreach. But I’m not voting for Republicans until they atone for Iraq, accept the gays, stop worrying about abortion and contraception, and leave the Hispanics alone.

    In other words, I’ll probably be dead before I can vote for a Republican….but a guy can hope, right?

  18. Herb says:

    @Tlaloc: Oh, and PS:

    “the sudden Dem embrace of torture/rendition”

    Where did you hear that?

    I thought the big critique was that Obama is killing terrorists with drones and special forces raids, violating sovereign borders and assassinating American citizens. But he’s embracing torture too?

  19. Lgbpop says:

    @An Interested Party: Oh, stop being obtuse. I didn’t hear anything but praise when Hillary ran for senator from New York and she hadn’t even moved there yet. You have to ridicule impartially.

  20. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder who will be the last elected Republican east of the Hudson River. My guess it will be in New Hampshire.

    I find it odd that after noticing that six years ago that demographics had doomed the idea that a conservative party can exist in the U.S., that everyone else is coming around to the same conclusion. The percentage of the population that wants a high benefit for themselves, high tax for others government has now crossed 50%.

    I guess Snowe figured out that there is no place more a moderate Republican in a country that has no use for either moderates or Repubicans.

  21. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I think it is more than “Leans Democrat” right now, due to the disastrous governorship of LaPage (R-Tea Party). It has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many Mainers. If either Michaud or Pingree decide to let the other be the nominee, either one would likely win.

  22. Moosebreath says:

    Jon Chait reads the tea leaves differently, and thinks Snowe may become the third party presidential nominee of the radical centrists.

  23. It really must be tiring being a moderate republican, trying do do the job she was supposed to do. Then fighting with Democrats and radicals from your own party. I am independent who leans Democrat and I do not know much of her but I am sorry the moderates of both sides are giving up. We need a two party system to work. Why is comprimise such a bad thing anymore?

  24. Rick Almeida says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I find it odd that after noticing that six years ago that demographics had doomed the idea that a conservative party can exist in the U.S., that everyone else is coming around to the same conclusion.

    This would be heady stuff indeed if Teixeira and Judis hadn’t written a book on more or less this in 2002.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    @Lgbpop: Oh sweetie, my point wasn’t so much about carpetbaggers as it was about joke candidates like O’Donnell and Keyes…

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @An Interested Party: Still, the Obama-Keyes match was notable historically in that it defined the crazification factor.

  27. Lgbpop says:

    @An Interested Party: Patronizing. How typical. I am not your sweetie, ma’am. There’s no way I’d consort with you. Thanks for the proposition, though – another gesture so typical of Democrat women. 🙂

  28. An Interested Party says:
  29. superdestroyer says:

    Olympia Snowe has been in elected office since 1979. One would think that in 30 years of public office that Maine politics would be filled with people who were protegees and mentorees of Snowe and that elected offices from mayors to the state house to U.S. Congressional seats would be held by people who were help and promoted by Snowe.

    Yet, it seems that Snowe is leaving office and there is not one person who has been helped by Snowe waiting to take her place.

    Maybe the lack of real influence in politics says a lot about the lack of leadership and ability of Snowe.

  30. David says:

    @superdestroyer: Or the self destructive nature of today’s Republican party that cannot accept any views that are not in line with the far right wing of the party. If the republican party becomes irrelevant, it’s not because of demographics, it’s because the party drove the moderates out.