Morning Fix: Being Olympia Snowe
As the health care debate enters its final stretch, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has emerged as the focal point not only of the White House's attempts to make the final bill a bipartisan affair but also for liberals who want the so-called public option in the legislation.
On Monday, two liberal groups -- the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America -- began a $100,000 ad buy in Maine and Washington, D.C. urging Snowe to reverse her past public position in opposition to a health care plan with a government option included.
That ad campaign comes just days after a New York Times story detailing the long courtship of Snowe by President Obama and his senior aides.
And, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) on Monday was re-structuring the affordability elements of his health care bill to suit Snowe in advance of today's hearing on the legislation.
How did Snowe become the central player in the central fight of the first year (term?) of the Obama administration?
There's no one reason but several elements of Snowe's legislative -- and electoral -- background help to explain her current high profile role.
First, Snowe -- unlike many moderates of both parties -- has absolutely no electoral worries. She has held office in Maine for more than three decades straight and has won reelection with 74 percent and 69 percent in her last two races, respectively. Even Democrats acknowledge that challenging Snowe in Maine is a fool's errand, as she is too entrenched and too popular to justify spending any time or money in a race against her.
And, as the Post's Paul Kane points out, the social conservative movements that have roiled many state Republican parties in the past several decades have never touched Maine -- meaning that Snowe worries little about being challenged from her ideological right for the stances she takes in the Senate.
(A counterpoint on Snowe's popularity: In a recent poll conducted for the liberal Daily Kos blog, Snowe had solid but not spectacular approval ratings.)
Second, Snowe has been around politics -- particularly at the federal level -- for a VERY long time and knows the ins and outs of the legislative process. She was first elected to Maine's 2nd district in 1978 and won a Senate seat 16 years later. Snowe knows where -- and when -- to push the administration for concessions. Her opposition to the public option is based, at least in part, on her belief that a bill with that provision included would not attract any GOP support and would further the stagnation that has settled over the Senate when it comes to health care. (For a detailed explanation of how Snowe is working to change the bill -- via amendments -- to make it more pass-able, check out Ezra Klein's largely favorable treatment of the matter.)
Third, Snowe has been in this position before. During the presidency of George W. Bush she was regularly the lone -- or one of the only -- Republican voices working to check the agenda coming out of the White House. That role means that Snowe is as immune as any politician can be to the cross-pressures she is currently receiving -- from conservatives who want her to hold the line in opposition to the health care plan and from liberals who want her to go even further in her willingness to cooperate with Democrats. Having weathered these storms in the past, Snowe is less likely to cave to either side.
For these reasons (and others), Snowe's vote is regarded as the "yea" or "nay" that can make or break the president's number one legislative priority. A vote in support of a final bill would give it the patina of bipartisanship that the White House covets. If Snowe opposes a final bill, it could well force Democrats to extreme legislative measures to pass the legislation before 2010 rolls around.
Tuesday's Fix Picks:
Deeds Keeps Pushing On Thesis: One day after a Washington Post poll showed state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) gaining on former state attorney general Bob McDonnell (R) in the Virginia governor's race, Deeds went up with two new harsh -- but effective -- ads hammering the GOP nominee on his now famous/infamous master thesis. In one ad, a narrator notes that McDonnell was 34 when he wrote the thesis and that it included proposals to restrict birth control "even for married adults." In the other commercial, a series of women hit McDonnell. "We've seen your ads and heard your excuses," says one woman. Another says McDonnell's record "troubles me." The ads are an indication that, as expected, Deeds is going to continue to focus his campaign on McDonnell's thesis in an attempt to paint the Republican nominee as outside of the Virginia mainstream.
Democrat Owens Up With Ads in NY-23 Special: With Rep. John McHugh (R) formally confirmed as secretary of the army, the special election race to replace him has begun in earnest with attorney Bill Owens (D) now on TV with an ad introducing him to the North Country voters. The ad highlights Owens's military background -- he served as a captain at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in the district -- and his work to try to create jobs at the base once it closed. Owens closes the commercial by promising to "fight for what matters and right now we need to fight for Upstate New York." The ad, which was produced by Murphy Putnam Media, is very similar -- from a message standpoint -- to the way Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) positioned himself in a special election in Upstate New York earlier this year. Owens faces off against state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) and businessman Doug Hoffman (Conservative) in a shortened race. McHugh formally resigned his seat on Monday and Gov. David Paterson -- yes, him -- is charged with setting a date for the special. The expectation is it will coincide with the Nov. 3 election.
McCain Endorses Moran: Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) is throwing his support behind Rep. Jerry Moran in the Kansan's Senate primary fight against fellow Rep. Todd Tiahrt. McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, praised Moran's "proven record of fiscal responsibility" in offering his support. McCain is the latest in a series of senators -- John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) among them -- to back Moran. Tiahrt also has his share of endorsements including from former House speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and former Kansas representative Jim Ryun. Both candidates are trying to paint themselves as the true conservative in the contest and polling suggests the race is tight. Given that Kansas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s, whoever wins the GOP primary will have a major leg up next fall.
Click It!: Missed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (R) speech to the Value Voters Summit on Friday? Here's the key moment -- appeasement! -- that helped Tpaw into a three-way tie for third in the Summit's 2012 straw poll.
Bush Hearts Rubio : Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) said he "admired" both former state House speaker Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist -- the party's two candidates for Senate -- but made no secret of his support for Rubio's bid. "I think he should be given a chance," Bush said in an address at the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club, according to a report in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "I think that the idea that the national party would pick a winner a year and a half before an election is the wrong way to go." While Bush hasn't officially endorsed in the race, it's long been clear he prefers Rubio. Bush and Crist have long had chilly relations and although the national party has lined up behind the governor, many of Bush's former aides are publicly (and privately) behind Rubio. The former speaker could use a public endorsement from Bush as it might jumpstart what has been a very sluggish fundraising effort to date.
Say What?: I think it's important to realize that i was actually black before the election." -- President Obama responds to the idea that some conservatives dislike him because of his race during an interview with late night talk show host David Letterman.
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