Friday, May 06, 2011

The plight of Olympia Snowe, revisited

The Hill has a piece up today noting that Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, long thought to be one of those most endangered of species, a moderate Republican, has actually "taken surprisingly conservative positions in the Senate this year."

Surprising? Not so much. While Snowe claims consistency, the truth is that she's not just endangered but in danger, facing the possibility of a serious Tea Party primary challenge from the right. And as she moves more and more to the right, she's even voting against her own ideas:

Snowe stunned longtime Democratic colleagues Wednesday by blocking action on a small-business bill she co-wrote because Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on an amendment they saw as a political hit job.

"Sen. Snowe actually wrote this bill," said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Small Business Committee. "She killed her own bill under the guise that she feels so strongly about reg reform."

She claims that she voted against the bill because the amendment was necessary (and because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied her the opportunity to vote on it), but the amendment, co-sponsored with right-wing Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was decidedly anti-regulatory and contrary to the spirit of the legislation. Far from being consistent, Snowe clearly sought to embrace a right-wing effort to undermine the bill in order to display her newfound conservative bona fides, all part of her disingenuous move to the right in order to ward off, or at least to try to be in better position to defeat, a Tea Party challenge.

Snowe has been a "moderate" for so long that I highly doubt that her efforts will work. Maine voters, and especially Maine Republican primary voters, are not about to take her as a Coburn-like conservative. It's just not what she's ever been, and her efforts now, like Mitt Romney's seem desperate and pathetic.

Nonetheless, I suspect that Snowe is fairly safe if only because of her long-standing incumbency in a state that is hardly as conservative as, say, Oklahoma. Still, there's an opening for the Tea Party to bring her down, and she's obviously concerned enough to forsake her past and embrace her party's mainstream extremism.

And she's hardly alone. Any Republican who in any way departs from Tea Party orthodoxy is a target. This is one of the key developments to watch as we look ahead to November 2012.

For more on this, see Richard Barry's post from Tuesday.


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