Snowe Fall?

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.

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3 thoughts on “Snowe Fall?

  1. As a contrast, I’d argue that Senator Snowe is in a very different position than Specter.

    Arlen couldn’t fend off a strong Democrat and strong Republican and switched parties because his two biggest threats were a Republican primary and a Democrat in the general and his move neutralized both…or at least did at the time.

    It’s not such a clearly beneficial move for Snowe, though it would shore up her electoral fortunes.

    The question I have is whether the Democrats would want that. Nobody thinks bipartisanship and peace between the parties when Snowe crosses the aisle but she does give cover to conservative Democrats not to mention, D’s would rather she lose in Maine and they put a liberal Democrat in that seat.

    I’m curious why you don’t think she’s more likely to just go Independent?

  2. I’m not as sure that she provides cover for conservative Democrats any more than Lieberman provided cover for moderate Republicans. At least not electorally. Though I do think that her vote for a bill does give those bipartisanship fetishists (be they at the WaPo or in the Senate) a warm and tingly feeling.

    I think you’re right about the Democrat’s long term interests being best served by replacing her with an actual Democrat. But if there is one thing politicians are not good at, it’s thinking strategically. Particularly with respect to long term benefits. But I’d argue that her vote now means quite a bit- it puts the caucus at 61, which means (assuming the leadership grows a spine) they can tell Lieberman to fly a kite. And it gives them some wiggle room on what some of their squishy members (Nelson, Linclon, etc.) view as tough votes.

    I could actually see her becoming an Independent, but even though Mainiacs were willing to elect an indie governor, there are still enormous hurdles to running a successful non-aligned race. I’d imagine if she were to go that route, she’d be best served by making her decision closer to 2012. The more time she is an indie, the more opportunity the GOP and the Dems have to recruit a strong candidate to run against her.

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