Olympia Snowe Vulnerable To Conservative Challenge In Maine

The strength of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party manifests itself in a poll out of Maine showing the Olympia Snowe is vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2012.

If the Tea Party movement is still around in 2012, Maine’s Olympia Snowe could be in serious trouble in a primary:

Last November, right after she supported the health care bill in committee, we found that 59% of Maine Republicans wanted to replace Olympia Snowe with someone more conservative while only 31% said they would support her again in 2012.

The passage of 10 months hasn’t done much to soften the ill will toward Snowe with members of her own party. Now 63% of them say they would support a more conservative alternative with only 29% saying they’re committed to Snowe.

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.

When PPP first did this poll on Snowe in November many argued that there was no viable conservative who could challenge her in the primary. The success of the highly flawed Christine O’Donnell in Delaware may say something about whether insurgent Republicans actually need to be particularly good candidates on paper to get some momentum. But we did find that Snowe trails even a named Republican challenger, 2006 Gubernatorial nominee Chandler Woodcock, by a 38-33 margin in a hypothetical contest.

Ultimately Snowe’s issues come down to ideology. 64% of folks within her own party think she’s too liberal. Unless the Tea Party fervor really dies down between now and 2012 she sure doesn’t look likely to win nomination for another term as a Republican.

Snowe won her last campaign for re-election in 2006 by a 300,000 vote margin, but it would appear that Maine Republicans have followed the lead of their fellow Republicans in states like Alaska, Delaware, and New York and become heavily influenced by the Tea Party movement. If that continues two years from now, it’s entirely likely that Snowe would lose a nomination fight to a more conservative challenger.

Its worth noting that 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.

So, we’re looking at a state that has voted Democratic in every Presidential election since 1992, but which has enough of an independent streak that moderate Republicans like Collins and Snowe are able to win on a statewide basis.What that means if the Maine GOP nominates a more conservative candidate is something we’ll have to wait to see, but given the fact that Maine is likely to stay in Obama’s column in 2012, such a campaign would seem to face an uphill battle.

Of course, there are many things that could happen between now and 2012 that could change Snowe’s fortunes. The Tea Party movement itself could start to fade away as conservatives start to align themselves behind competing candidates for President. The economy could improve, thus dissipating much of the anger feeding the movement. Most obviously, though, poll numbers like this could cause Snowe to respond by either moving to the right or, more likely given Maine’s recent history of electing Independents statewide, she could decide that a bid for re-election freed from the GOP mantle would be in her best interests.

Whatever the case may be, these poll numbers are yet further evidence that the Tea Party movement has pushed the GOP base even further to the right. Whether that’s a good thing for the party’s long-term fortunes remains to be seen.

Full poll results here

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
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:

    we’re looking at a state that has voted Democratic in every Presidential election since 1992, but which has enough of an independent streak that moderate Republicans like Collins and Snowe are able to win on a statewide basis.

    Rather than an “independent streak” I think it might be more accurate to say that Maine ha a very long history of Republicanism such that the party is a venerable institution in the state – but it is very much not the modern form of Republicanism. All of New England, of course, used to be Republican – in the Lincoln tradition. But as the Democrats became champions of civil rights, and the Reagans and Buckleys and the like were opposed, and as the Republicans became more of a southern, socially conservative party, there has been a decided shift to the Democrats on the national level. But the local Republican party has always been moored more in the Maine sensibility than in the national Republican sensibility – so the party has done well for its local officials.
    It will be interesting to see if the radicals could really be strong enough to take over the party. If so, I would not be surprised if lots of people who are politically like Snowe – maybe even Snowe herself, move over to the Democrats.

  2. sam says:

    Tea Partyers in Maine are having anything but a party:

    Something weird is happening with the tea party in Maine. In the past few days, tea party websites in the Pine Tree State have offered glimpses of what some are calling a coup at the one of the state’s largest tea party groups, The Maine Patriots.

    On Tuesday night, Amy Hale — one of the leaders of the Patriots group — posted an odd message to the group’s website, suggesting that she’d been forced to give up control of the site, according to media reports (the post has since been removed):

    I was cornered in the parking lot by 10+ people and told that bad things would happen to me if I did not give them the password and hand over Maine Patriots. Therefore, I no longer have control of Maine Patriots. Amy

    Hale reported the incident to the police. Last night, she refused to comment on the matter because, she told me, “the investigation is ongoing.” Details beyond what she wrote that first night are sketchy.

    Piecing together posts from tea party websites in the past couple of days, however, paints a picture of a state tea party in disarray — and a look at tea party paranoia.

    Since Tuesday, other tea party sites in Maine have been hotbeds of conspiracy theories and accusations, with some claiming that Hale was undermining the movement and others suggesting that those who allegedly removed her from the Maine Patriots site are anti-tea party plants. http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/08/tea_party_intrigue_in_maine_shows_just_how_deep_pa.php

  3. Dan says:

    Since Tuesday, other tea party sites in Maine have been hotbeds of conspiracy theories and accusations

    Hotbeds of conspiracy theories and accusations?  Doesn’t sound like the level headed, policy driven Tea Party I know.

  4. wr says:

    Of course the big joke is that Snowe and Collins only pretend to be “liberal” Republicans. They talk about working across the aisle, they clutch their pearls and fret over how terrible it is that there’s all this mean partisanship, they dangle their cooperation to the Democrats, and vote the strict Republican ticket every way. They are the quintessence of Lucy with the football, with the Dems as Charlie Brown. And Tea Partiers are so dumb they want to throw away this constant R vote to nominate some illiterate freak show (based on the history of Angle, Paul and others) who will say all the right things before losing in a landslide…

  5. Pete says:

    Yes, WR, I would throw it away in a second to make the point that serious and consequential change must come to this country to open the eyes of the complacent electorate. Tactical losses which support strategic progress are fine with me.

  6. sam says:

    I think that great political philosopher Monty Python captured the Delaware situation perfectly:
    Suicide Squad Leader: We are the Judean People’s Front crack suicide squad! Suicide squad, attack! [they all stab themselves] 
    Suicide Squad Leader: That showed ’em, huh?

  7. Herb says:

    “If the Tea Party movement is still around in 2012…”

    That’s a pretty big if.