Snowe dumps on Maine

And you thought tomorrow's big news would be the threatening blizzard? Nope - Olympia Snowe is going to be the big headline. She's leaving the US Senate, in a move that apparently surprised even her own staff. It changes the political landscape in Maine and around the country.

She is a key Republican moderate whose vote was often coveted on both sides of the aisle (an influence she may have overhyped for electoral benefit).

Republicans were counting on her to hold her seat as part of their efforts to take the Senate. As an example of how this changes the political calculations around the nation, what was already going to be a hard-fought race for Ted Kennedy's old seat in Massachusetts (between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown) will now take on epic proportions.

Make no mistake: Maine is still essentially a Democratic state. (And to the extent that Governor Paul LePage's approval ratings are a barometer, more than half of Mainers aren't on board his train.) Snowe has won over and over partly based on her (apparent) moderation, and partly based on her ability to overwhelm opponents.

Democrats were ousted from control of Augusta in 2010 not because the Pine Tree State is dominated by Republicans, but because Maine's leading Democrats don't lead, and act like Republicans rather than providing alternatives. (Our Lance Tapley has written about this over and over and over, but still the Dems don't step up.)

Snowe's statement announcing her retirement says she does not expect the partisan gridlock to end in Washington anytime soon. And sure enough, a National Journal piece over the weekend suggested that now is, if not the most partisan time in congressional history, then perhaps the second-most partisan time.

Speculation has already begun about who might step up to replace her. Four Democrats ( state senator representative Jon Hinck, state senator Cynthia Dill, former Maine secretary of state Matt Dunlap, and political newcomer Ben Pollard) are already in.

Republican businessman Scott D'Amboise was planning to challenge Snowe in the primary; Tea Partier Andrew Ian Dodge left the GOP to run as an independent (he may rethink that decision now).

First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is clearly thinking about it - her statement on Snowe's announcement specifically said, "in the coming days I will carefully consider how I can best serve the people of Maine." Her counterpart in the 2nd District Mike Michaud has to be thinking about it too.

Former independent gubernatorial candidate (and Carter administration alumnus) Eliot Cutler is one of the few who could raise the needed money in the remaining time. And will former Congressman Tom Allen reappear? Other possibilities are being bruited about in the political echo-chamber, with new names being added to the chamber of bouncing balls almost by the minute.

It's also worth noting that two years ago there was big speculation about whether Snowe would leave the Republican Party. She didn't, but today's move essentially makes the same statement - that she does not believe participating in the Republican Party is useful for her.

Many questions are already being asked - and many more will arise over the next few days. Here, for those who like retrospectives, is our piece from the very first issue of the Portland Phoenix, looking at Snowe and Collins and their two-sided-ness.


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