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Repercussions of Snowe's Retirement Ripple Through Maine's Political Landscape
02/29/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine Senator Olympia Snowe dropped a bombshell late Tuesday afternoon that has blown the race for her U.S. Senate seat wide open. Snowe announced that she will not seek a fourth term. And the repercussions of this decision are only just beginning to be felt across Maine's political landscape.

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In a written statement released through her campaign office just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sen. Snowe said she had made the difficult decision to pull the plug on her Senate campaign. She said the surprise announcement was not affected by her health or for personal reasons but rather by the frustrating atmosphere of polarization in Washington and what she calls the "my way or the highway ideologies" that pervade government and politics

"It was a shock to me, obviously, and it will be to everyone else in Maine," says Maine GOP chair Charlie Webster. Webster says he's heard Snowe express her frustration with Washington gridlock several times in recent months. "And I think she just got tired of it and said: 'Let somebody else try.'"

Webster says the state of Maine has lost an incredible voice in Washington D.C. and he says his party will look for a candidate who embraces her legacy.

Snowe's exit from a seat she had been expected to win blows the door open on Maine's Senate race, says Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. There are currently four Democrats competing in the primary: Jon Hinck, Matt Dunlap, Cynthia Dill and Benjamin Pollard.

But others are also giving it some thought. Both 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud issued written statements saying they were considering their options. And Grant says Maine Democrats are in the position to fare well.

"You know we've got some strong candidates already in the race," he says. "I know that there will be some other people in Maine who give it some serious consideration. But no matter who emerges we're going to have a top tier candidate. This is going to be a top tier race when you look at the whole map across the country."

Democrats and Republicans who intend to run for the U.S. Senate have until March 15 to gather 2,000 signatures to get their names on the ballot. And with the GOP and Democratic caucuses in the rearview mirror, wannabe candidates without a strong organization in place may have a tough time.

Already, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the PCCC, has launched an online effort to draft Congresswoman Pingree to run. The PCCC is the same group that boosted Elizabeth Warren's campaign for Senate in Massachusetts and helped her raise more than $600,000 last year.

Chris Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin, says he thinks Pingree has the edge now that Snowe is out.

"I think all of those very conservative Republicans that wanted to get rid of her (Snowe) have probably, in the fullness of time, elected Chellie Pingree," Potholm says. "I think Chellie is the only one who can jump into the race now in that two-week window. And I wonder how they're going to like it next November when whatever they've done or not done will result in Chellie Pingree. I think Chellie Pingree's got a great chance to win the primary and the general election."

Currently there is only one Republican running for Snowe's seat: small businessman Scott D'Amboise. Potholm says Republicans such as Senate President Kevin Raye, who is currently in the race for Maine's 2nd congressional district, and former House Republican leader Josh Tardy, might give it some thought, and so could a list of several other current and former GOP candidates.

As for independents, they have until June to gather their signatures. Andrew Ian Dodge is already working toward that end. He recently announced he was leaving the GOP and will instead compete as an independent in the race. Another independent who says he is giving a run some consideration is former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, who's been working on finding common ground in politics with an organization called OneMaine.

"I haven't ruled anything out. I'm still digesting this," Cutler says. "I must say that I'm flattered by the attention and by the support, but I also, as I said, agree with Olympia that there are unique opportunities to do this outside the United States Senate and I feel very strongly that we need to rebuild the political center in every state in America."

In her statement, Sen. Snowe says she sees the vital need for the political center in order for democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide. Snowe said she thinks there are unique opportunities to build that support from outside the U.S. Senate.

Her fellow Republican Senate colleague Susan Collins also issued a statement saying she was "absolutely devastated" to learn that Snowe would not seek re-election.

Sen. Snowe has a "well-deserved reputation as an informed, thoughtful and effective legislator," Collins wrote. "I will miss her knowledge and support but most of all I will miss her friendship."

Sen. Snowe has served in the U.S. Senate since 1994, and before that, she served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the first woman in history to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress. She has scheduled a news conference Friday in Portland to discuss the reasons for her decision.



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