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Snowe's Senate Exit Leaves Maine Political Races up in Air
02/29/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

A bombshell was dropped in Maine yesterday by three-term Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe when she announced she would not seek re-election this year. The repercussions are only just beginning to be felt across the state's political landscape. Snowe says the extreme partisanship in Washington is the reason she's giving up her run for a fourth term. The decision shocked everyone from political insiders to ordinary voters.

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After 33 years in Congress, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe says she's fed up with the "my way or the highway" ideology in government and politics. In an interview with MSNBC, this is how Snowe described the current climate in Washington: "We're not working out issues anymore. We're working in a parallel universe with competing proposals, up or down votes."

At one of Snowe's favorite spots near her hometown, lunchtime customers at Simones hot dog stand in Lewiston say they can't blame her for calling it quits. "She strikes me as someone who has given her all. And she's, I think, she has every right to be tired. She has every right to relax," says Republican Peter Jensen of South Paris, who says he wasn't planning to vote for Snowe.

Jensen describes himself as an arch-conservative whose own views are to the right of Sen. Snowe's. But Jensen says he respects a woman who was the first to serve in both houses of a state Legislature and both branches of Congress.

And so does longtime Snowe supporter Peter Robinson of Lewiston. "I think Olympia Snowe was THE smartest person in Congress," he says. Robinson says he remembers former Maine Sen. William Cohen describe similar frustrations with Congress nearly two decades ago. Since then, Robinson says the challenge for someone like Snowe has only gotten worse. In recent years Snowe has reached across the aisle to pass the stimulus bill and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"You gotta have brains and she was smart--not the smartest woman, the smartest person," Robinson says. "And this state will be hard-pressed to find anybody to replace her."

Shortly after Snowe's announcement, would-be Senate candidates of every political persuasion began mulling over their options and speculating about who might run for her seat. Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, is circulating petitions for a run. Former Gov. Angus King, an independent, is considering jumping in. So is former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

For those who have already declared their intentions all the hubbub is a little frustrating. Former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is one of four Democrats who had previously thrown his hat in the ring, and who plans to stay in the race. But now Dunlap says the floodgates have opened. "Right now the field consists from everyone from Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, to Santa Claus and the tooth fairy," he says.

Both Democrats, Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congressman Mike Michaud have already begun collecting the necessary 2,000 signatures to pursue a Senate run. They have just two weeks to meet the deadline to qualify for the ballot. Independents have a bit longer--until June 1st.

But Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant says he's optimistic about Democrats' chances for winning Snowe's seat. "If you sort of compare the state of candidates in the Republican Party in Maine versus the Democratic Party, we're in a much stronger position to have a top-tier candidate emerge to run for this open seat," Grant says. "She really did leave them without a lot of options."

That's because, minus Snowe, the Maine GOP has no top-of-the-ticket elected leaders who are poised to run. But there are Republicans who will take the jump and who will also eye potential vacancies left by Pingree or Michaud in Maine's congressional districts. And depending on what happens, one or both of the Democratically-held congressional seats could be put at risk.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins says she's devastated by Snowe's decision not to seek re-election. But Collins says as a fellow moderate Republican she understands why.

"There is no doubt that those of us in the middle are increasingly vilified for our efforts to bring people together, to work with members on both sides of the aisle and to achieve solutions," she says. "It used to be when I first got to the Senate that we were praised for those efforts and now we're criticized by both the far left and the far right."

Despite that atmosphere Collins says she's still proud of the work she's accomplished in Washington and optimistic that she can achieve more. But without the presence of Sen. Snowe, whom Collins describes as a "leading moderate" in the United States Senate, she says there's no question that her own job will be more difficult.



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