Meet The Tea Party’s Next Target

Maine's Olympia Snowe appears to be the next target of the Tea Party movement, but she is also uniquely situated to retain her seat if she chooses to.

Maine’s senior Senator Olympia Snowe has raised the ire of conservatives for several years due to her moderate voting record and her willingness to cross the aisle on important votes. Now, it looks like she’s already being targeted for defeat in 2012:

I have direct knowledge of a conservative in Maine who is preparing to challenge Olympia Snowe. He has told me he is running but has asked me to keep things vague so as not to step on his announcement, which he plans to make early next year. He comes out of the tea-party movement and I have every reason to believe he’s serious about this.

As for Snowe, she had better be looking over her right shoulder. Last month, Public Policy Polling found that 63 percent of Maine Republicans would support “a more conservative alternative” to Snowe, while only 29 percent were committed to her. PPP added:

Moderate Republicans love Snowe. They give her a 70% approval rating and a strong majority say they’d vote to nominate her for another term. But those folks make up only 30% of the GOP electorate in Maine. It’s now dominated by conservatives and they’re particularly negative toward her, giving her just a 26% approval rating and saying by a 78-15 margin they’d like to trade her out for someone to the right.

Given what occurred in Republican primaries during this year’s election cycle in states like Alaska, Delaware, and New York, Snowe would do well to be concerned that what happened to Lisa Murkowski and Mike Castle could happen to her.

One possible reaction on Snowe’s part, of course, would be to run as an Independent or a Democrat, and Slate’s Steve Kornacki argues that the Independent route would be the smartest one for her:

For Snowe, the independent route makes far more sense. For one thing, Maine is more hospitable to third-party candidates than just about any other state. The structural and ballot barriers that exist in, say, New York or Pennsylvania just aren’t present in Maine, which elected an independent governor in 1994  (Angus King, who was reelected in a 40-point landslide in 1998) and which nearly elected another one last week (Eliot Cutler, who fell one point short against LePage). Moreover, Snowe is broadly popular with Maine’s electorate; her only real problem is with the Tea Partiers who hold sway in GOP primaries. In other words, more than anyone else in the Senate, Snowe is well-equipped to wage a successful independent campaign.

This sounds about right. Most importantly, though, 2012 would be a good year for Snowe to try to retain her seat in a three-way race. She won her last bid for re-election a 300,000 vote margin, it’s likely the case that she would face a better chance running against a conservative Republican in a General Election than in a primary, much like Lisa Murkowski this year. Moreover, Snowe’s bid would likely be helped by the fact that she would be running in a Presidential election year. President Obama won Maine by 126,000 votes in 2008, while Snowe’s Republican colleague Susan Collins won her re-election bid that same year by more than 230,000 votes. Snowe would likely benefit from the increased turnout in a Presidential year, and the fact that Maine has not gone Republican in a Presidential election since 1988.

There’s no guarantee that an independent bid by Snowe would succeed, of course, but she’d clearly have a better chance or retaining her seat taking that route than if she were to try to fight her way through what would clearly be a hostile GOP primary in a state where the Tea Party movement has become a powerful force in the state party.\

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tano says:

    Or, of course, she could go sit with the Dems, and actually have some power.

  2. Deborah Brown says:

    I personally prefer a Senator who has the ability to stand alone when it accounts and who has a brain of her own. She’s one of the rare politicians who can think outside a party in order to represent the people. I have been a registered Republican since 1972 and I live in Maine. Anytime she runs she’s got my full support.

    Unless LePage follows through on his promise to oust President Obama (among other things) the people in Maine won’t be happy with him. People up here take promises LITERALLY… and they are absolutely counting on him to do this. The only way you’ll have strong support from conservatives up here if LePage keeps his promise. People are watching!

  3. ponce says:

    Assuming Republican voter enthusiasm in 2012 doesn’t suffer the same two year dip that Democratic enthusiasm suffered in 2010.

  4. TG Chicago says:

    I agree that the Independent route makes the most sense, but I wonder how she plays it.

    Does she pull out prior to the Republican primary? That would be odd, but it would keep her from having to spend money in the primary race (saving it for the 3-way general), and might force her eventual Republican opponent to spend money fighting off other folks in the primary. And it would come off a little less like a “sore loser” thing, as Lieberman and Murkowski were called.

    It would be awfully weird to cede the Republican nomination without a fight, but I can’t think of any huge downsides to that decision. Am I missing something?

  5. Rock says:

    Madam Snowe is a Rinoette. Stale tea for the angry plebeians to dump overboard.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m curious as to how many of these new tea party targets are viable? I don’t know Maine politics that much, so perhaps she is vulnerable. I do know Indiana politics, and Senator Richard Lugar is another target often mentioned in the same breath as Collins. It seems to me that messing with a much-loved, widely adored Senator with bipartisan voter support doesn’t seem to me to be the best path to power. Oust Lugar in a primary, and he’ll win handily as an Independent. I would think the same would be true for Collins. And then what do you have? The same Senator but with lessened political affiliation and obligation.

  7. anjin-san says:

    The GOP circular firing squad begins to take formation…

  8. An Interested Party says:

    “Madam Snowe is a Rinoette. Stale tea for the angry plebeians to dump overboard.”

    Well, if you want to give away seats from the GOP, please feel free…