Jonathan Chait

You're Next, Olympia Snowe

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As long as right-wing activists are machine-gunning the Republican Party's most electable Senate nominees, why not plan for a 2012 clash with Olympia Snowe?

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe doesn't face election for another two years but the three-term lawmaker, who has a reputation as a Republican moderate who sometimes is willing to break with the party leadership, should be seeing this warning sign on her political radar: 64 percent of the state's Republicans say she is "too liberal," according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted Sept. 2-6. ...

Fifty-three percent of Republicans disapprove of the job she is doing as senator while 39 percent approve, with 8 percent undecided. Those who describe themselves as conservative disapprove by a 66 percent to 26 percent margin, with 9 percent undecided.

PPP's polling sample casts Maine Republicans as decidedly conservative, at 69 percent. Moderates make up only 30 percent.

Obviously the landscape will be different in 2012. But different how? On the one hand, the GOP has lurched sharply right, and activists will interpret the inevitable gains as a vindication of that strategy. On the other hand, if Republicans blow a few races because they nominated Sharron Angle type candidates, the message may filter down to the base that always nominating a purist conservative is not a cost-free approach.

In the meantime, the interesting question is how Snowe responds to the potential threat. Does she move right to shore up her base? Or does she stay where she is, or even move left, to have the option to run as an independent? I'm guessing she picks number one. But I don't see how her ideological bona fides could possibly be solid enough to withstand a real primary challenge.

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