Jonathan Chait

Olympia Snowe Is On The Clock

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Looks like Olympia Snowe is getting a right-wing primary challenger in Maine:

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.

Things can change in two years, but the way the Republican Party is currently operating, primary challenges like this are nearly impossible to defeat. Christine O-Donnell won, and she was pretty obviously a totally underqualified borderline nutcase. Maine looks like a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats in 2012. If I'm Snowe, I'm figuring my best chance to retain the seat is not to try to lurch to the right -- which hasn't worked for anybody; these activists have long memories -- but to make a plan to hold the seat as an independent or Democrat. The chances of surviving that way are way higher than the chances of making it through a Republican primary. Snowe could always try to run to the right between now and 2012, and then bolt from the party if she loses (or faces the certain prospect of losing) the primary. But then she looks opportunistic and probably just loses to a Democrat in the general election.

Of course, that's just fine by me. I don't especially care for Snowe. But at Jonathan Chait, our policy is to hand out free political advice to everybody regardless of party or ideology.

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