This new polling from PPP is not good news for Olympia Snowe, nor is it good news for the portion of the GOP that is not affiliated with the teabaggers. Short version– Snowe is in serious peril in a Republican primary in 2012. Longer version below.
When close to 60% of self identified party primary voters would support a more conservative candidate, you have a problem. Much of this is explained by her being the sole Republican on the Senate Finance Committee to vote for the Baucus bill. And 2012 is a long way off. With that said, I think Snowe will face a decision of whether to remain in the GOP or switch parties a la Arlen Specter. She polls far better among moderates and liberals than conservatives. And, related to that, much better among voters who supported Obama over McCain in 2008.
Beyond the implications for Snowe personally, there are broader consequences for the GOP. If Snowe remains in the Party and loses to a more conservative candidate, the seat will likely move Democratic in the general. Depending on what happens in 2010 and other races in 2012, this could mean Democrats holding onto a super-majority or even increasing their number to 60+. Of course, if Snowe were to switch parties, she would stand a very good chance of holding onto the seat, but it would obviously become a Democratic seat albeit with a former Republican as the incumbent.
Further, I see more danger for the GOP is Snowe remains a Republican. If she were to change parties now, it would certainly give the Democrats a short term boost. But it is more difficult to see voters in other districts remembering what happened to Snowe in 2009 in either 2010 or 2012. Now, if Snowe stayed in the Party only to be pushed aside in a bloody primary, a la Scozzafava, that image- of the GOP’s conservative base forcing a moderate out of the Party- would be fresh in the minds of women and independent voters leading up to the general election in 2012. Certainly Democrats running in purple to blue districts will be sure to remind potential GOP voters that the Party has no room for moderates.
Switching parties now is in the best interests of both Snowe and the GOP. By moving to the Democratic side of the aisle close to three years prior to her reelection campaign, Snowe will have time to persuade Maine’s Democrats that she is one of them. And, if she is astute, she will actually get out in front of the health care bill as a means of discouraging potential Democratic primary opponents. I cannot say for certain what she will do, but if she is self-interested, as most politicians are, she will clearly see her only path to holding onto her seat is as a Democrat. (One caveat- she would also have a chance as an Independent, especially given Maine’s willingness to elect indies to statewide office.)
Further random thought– I am actually quite surprised that there are that many far right Republicans in Maine. Though it and New Hampshire are probably the least blue states in New England, I really had assumed that Republicans in Maine were fairly middle of the road.