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Will Olympia Snowe switch parties?

PH2009110505181.jpgCommenter Andrew Long pushes back against the idea that Olympia Snowe will switch parties:

Given her policy positions, the only issues she'll ever have a chance of "nailing" Obama on are the budget and taxes. The budget is deeply unsexy, she voted against it this year and got nothing out of it, and she voted for most of Bush's bloated budgets and supplementals. What's more, like Maverick McCain, she voted against Bush's 2003 tax cuts. She could conceivably try to nail Obama for the continued jobless recovery, but she voted FOR the stimulus. She'll wait to see how the midterms pan out, but if her party picks up even a few seats with the Rubios, Toomeys, and Ovid Lamontagnes of the world, she's probably toast as a Republican.

But I DON'T think she becomes a Democrat. She'll pull a Modified Reverse Lieberman: many months before the primary, she'll announce she's leaving the Republican Party to become an Independent. She may even continue to caucus with the GOP. Not only will the declaration of ideological independence fit her image to a tee and play well Down East, she will have a very strong argument that her voting record most closely tracks the preferences of Maine's largest voting bloc -- "Unenrolled" voters, or what the rest of us call "Independents."

Snowe also has deep personal connections to the Republican Party: Her first husband was a Republican legislator in Maine's House of Representatives, and her current husband is the former Republican governor of Maine. Becoming an independent seems a lot likelier than becoming a Democrat. But in that scenario, who would she vote for as majority leader?

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/Associated Press.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 11, 2009; 9:01 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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I agree. She's really an ideologue of the NE Republican stripe, a nearly extinct sort of Republican.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | November 11, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

This is classic national chatter about a local issue. It is less informed than it should be.

Snowe's centrism is a very good brand in Maine. People love it. I personally think its a bit of a farce, but as a general rule she is very popular.

Senator Collins tries to pull off the same thing - to considerable, if marginally lesser, success.

Ms Snowe has no worries about general election pressure - she has broad support in Maine. The suggestion of these articles is that she has some kind of primary pressure to worry about from right-wing republicans. That's not true.

First, there are the independent ("unenrolled") maine voters - which are more than a 1/3 of the voters in the state. These folks are bread and butter for the 'centrist' positioned Snowe. In Maine, unenrolled voters may vote in any primary that they wish - and a tight Snowe primary would draw them like flies to honey. So any poll of registered republican voters is only interesting as an intellectual exercise - they are not the electorate of anything.

Second, Ms Snowe is extremely well tied in to the republican infrastructure in Maine - she is a local politician. Her husband is a former Maine Republican Governor. Primaries are about turnout, and she has her hands on the the machinery that drives primary turnout. Again, the actual electorate is more favorable to Ms Snowe than a generic poll of registered republicans.

Third, any primary challenge would certainly come from a pat toomey far right conservative. That kind of zealotry is not going to play well here just as it did not play well in northern new york last week. A generic poll matches Snowe against each voters idealized challenger - the real wing nut candidate is necessarily less than ideal to some of the electorate.

While this is fun blog chatter, the reality is that Snowe, like 75% of her Senate brethren, can easily serve for life if she chooses and she knows that.

Posted by: patrickinmaine | November 11, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"any primary challenge would certainly come from a pat toomey far right conservative. That kind of zealotry is not going to play well here just as it did not play well in northern new york last week."

Maybe. But it seems that the Club-For-Growth crowd isn't as interested in winning general elections as much as it is in taking over the party. And in that sense, it did play well in NY-23: it forced the moderate Republican out of the race, which they saw as a victory even though they didn't win the seat in the end.

It may be correct that "unenrolled" voters may protect Snowe from a challenge from the right. But it's also been shown that well-organized minorities can mount serious challenges and sometimes beat more diffuse majorities.

Posted by: dasimon | November 11, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Harrumph! I'm sick of prima donnas. Exactly why should the US have to put up with this NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) - although she's not as bad as Joe LIEberman?

The recent polls indicate she's not so well entrenched. Run a strong progressive Dem against her and make her wish she'd realize that Bangor ME isn't the center of the universe.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | November 11, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Well, if she makes the move I think she'll do it after Jan. 2011, so she won't have to vote for a majority leader until Jan. 2013, if she wins reelection. At that time, she'll probably caucus with, and vote for, whomever will allow her to retain her committee positions and seniority.

Hey, thanks for the column inches Ezra.

Posted by: andrewlong | November 11, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

I don't see her thinking she will have success as an Indy. As the GOP shrinks to its teaparty, right wing base, 90%+ of it will vote for whoever comes out of the primary. Unlike with Lieberman running as an Indy, the National GOP isn't going to lay down for an Indy who isn't toeing the party line (which is what would drive Snowe to go Indy in the first place).

So it comes down to what the Dems run to her *left* and how turned off the Dem base is by her votes between now and then.

We need to remember that she's running in a Presidential Election Year, with a person on the ballot who did this:

57.71% Obama
40.38% McCain

If she isn't exactly supportive of the Dems between now and 2012, does anyone expect the DNC and DSCC to roll over for her?

She'll have a giant target on her back from one side by the RNC/RSCC/TeaBagger Brigade and on the other side by the DNC/DSCC/Liberal Activists. She's going to try to walk the fine line by getting the "1/3rd" Indy vote, and praying she can peel off some from the Dems and GOP. Her problem is that she's unlikely to get 100% of the Indies: some of them are going to find their issue or two where she just pisses them off.

If she plays "Lieb" as Andrew suggests, she dies. What's left of the GOP has no love for a Lieb type, other than as a pain in the ass to the Dems. In this case, it wouldn't draw GOP support. On the other side, I think we've clearly see how Dems responded to Specter trying to play Lieb: he's getting killed.

Sure, Snowe starts with higher support. I think it overestimates just how the teaparty mentality is going to be voting. I also think that when even 20-40% of folks are voting for Dems against the reasonably popular Snowe & Collins in prior elections, there is an existing base that doesn't care for them.

If she wants to go Indy *and* Caucus with the GOP, good luck to her.


Posted by: toshiaki | November 11, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

did anyone read patrick's post? He makes more sense than Ezra. Maine is a moderate state. Snowe is a moderate politician. What makes people think that either a progressive dem or right-winger can beat her? It's just wishful thinking. You know she won 75% of the vote in 2006, right? 75%!!! in a year when Dems took Congress. Things haven't changed THAT much.

Maine is the 3rd oldest state, has the 5th most military vets, and isn't religious. Vets and seniors won't vote for a progressive. Secular voters won't support anyone one who spouts the right's rhetoric.

Snowe as a Repub. is a lock. She doesn't need to walk a fine line.

Posted by: mbp3 | November 11, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

mbp3: "did anyone read patrick's post? He makes more sense than Ezra. Maine is a moderate state. Snowe is a moderate politician. What makes people think that either a progressive dem or right-winger can beat her?"

Yes, I did read it, as I think my post made clear. The question is not whether she'd get beat in a one-on-one in the general; it's whether she'd be at risk in a primary a challenge from the right. And while patrick has a point about "unenrolled" voters, there are examples of well-organized minorities posing serious challenges to more diffuse majorities.

I'm not saying patrick is wrong, only that perhaps the situation is not as sanguine as some might think.

Posted by: dasimon | November 12, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

I don't dispute that well-organized minorities can mount challenges. What I do dispue is that it could work on Snowe. People need to spend a few minutes looking at hte local politics in Maine.

Is there any history (even one example) of an incumbent Sen who was elected with 75% of the vote losing in a primary in the next election? I don't know for sure, but i'm guessing that it has never happened, even once.

If the threat of losing in a primary even occupies Snowe's mind for as long as 5 minutes, I'd be surprised.

Posted by: MBP2 | November 12, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

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