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Sen. Snowe of Maine will not seek re-election

This news story was published on February 29, 2012.
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By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of the Senate’s few remaining moderate Republicans, announced Tuesday that she would not seek a fourth term — a blow to GOP hopes of regaining control of the chamber.

Snowe, 65, was one of the few potential crossover voters in an increasingly partisan Congress, and she made her surprise decision in part after reflecting on the increasingly rancorous climate in Washington. She had also served in the House for eight terms.

“I am a fighter at heart, and I am well prepared for the electoral battle,” Snowe said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate.”

Snowe’s departure could help Democrats in November. They are defending a narrow 53-47 advantage, counting two independents who caucus with them. Her decision gives the majority party a much-needed opportunity to pick up a Republican-held seat that is now considered a “tossup” by the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Newly published vote ratings from the National Journal put Snowe squarely in the ideological center of the Senate. Only her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, ranked as a more liberal Republican.

Snowe was a target of increasingly powerful conservative groups like the Tea Party Express, and faced a rare challenge for renomination within her own party. But she won the backing of Maine’s conservative governor, Paul LePage.

Despite conservatives’ objections, she was not expected to face a difficult re-election, said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Rather, she seemed tired of the increasingly partisan atmosphere.

“There should be an Endangered Species List for Senate moderates,” Duffy said. “If any species needs protection from extinction, it’s Senate moderates.”

In 2009, Snowe cast the decisive vote in the Senate Finance Committee for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, although she voted against the legislation on the floor. She also supported Obama priorities like the economic-stimulus legislation and both of his nominees for the Supreme Court.

“Olympia could always be counted on as a leader who sought solutions, not political advantage,” Collins said.

“Senator Snow’s career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people,” Obama said in a statement.

“We will miss having her in the next Congress,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader.

Snowe becomes the 10th senator to announce plans to retire at the end of the current term, and only the third Republican. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, other GOP veterans, also face potentially difficult primary battles this year.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee noted that Obama carried Maine by 17 points in 2008 and is favored there again. State voters may also be considering a ballot measure in the fall to legalize same-sex marriage.

National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn countered that the state had “a proud history of electing independent leaders, including a Republican governor in 2010,” and said that the party was “confident” it would hold the seat.

Duffy of the Cook Political Report projected that “regardless of which party controls the Senate in January, the chamber will be more polarized than ever.”

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