Citing frustration with 'my-way-or-the-highway' partisan atmosphere in D.C., Snowe leaving Senate

Joel Page

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, right, laughs with Robin Zinchuk, left, in front of the world's largest snow woman, named "Olympia," in Bethel in March 2008. Snowe announced her retirement Tuesday.

PORTLAND — In a surprise announcement, moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe said Tuesday she would abandon her campaign for a fourth term — a contest she was expected to win easily — because she is frustrated by a polarized atmosphere in Washington.

The move dealt an immediate blow to Republicans hoping to take control of the Senate in November and gave Democrats new hope of winning the longtime GOP-held seat.

"As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives," Snowe said in a statement. "I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions."

The news came as a surprise to officials in both national parties. Snowe, 65, is in good health and for months had been laying the groundwork for a strong re-election effort, putting together a campaign team, keeping a busy schedule of events in the state and raising campaign money. She had more than $3.3 million in her campaign account at the end of last year, her last campaign finance report showed.

She spent more than a year working to beat back a tea party challenge, shifting her positions to the right in some cases and spending considerable time allaying the concerns of conservatives in Maine.

Snowe earned a reputation as an independent voice in her 33 years in Congress, but was frustrated by the sharp partisanship and gridlock that has come to characterize the upper chamber recently. She was the only Republican who voted for a version of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, joining Democrats and casting a vote for the plan in the Senate Finance Committee. She came under intense criticism from conservatives, even after she voted with the GOP to oppose the final legislation.

Snowe epitomized the Northeast centrist Republican, a rare breed in a Senate increasingly dominated by Southern Republicans.

"She comes from a line of moderate Republicans from John Chafee to John Heinz that made really working across the aisle a virtue," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "It's been really sad to see that virtue derided in so many Republican primaries the last couple years."

Obama said that in her many years in office, she has shown what can be done when both parties work together.

"From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine's small businesses, Senator Snowe's career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people," the president said.

Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts called Snowe a voice of reason in the Senate.

"We all are going to miss her independence and her ability to build bridges on some of the toughest issues," he said.

Snowe's fellow Republican senator and centrist, Susan Collins of Maine, said she was surprised and devastated by the announcement.

"Nobody can replace Olympia in the Senate," she said. "It's going to be a real void."

The Maine Democratic Party was also caught off guard. Snowe's exit from the race could boost Democrats who are facing tough odds this election cycle. Senate Democrats hold a 51-47 majority with two independents who caucus with them.

"This is a total game changer. It elevates this race to a top-tier race in the nation," said Ben Grant, the state Democratic Party chairman. "Obviously, this is going to cause a great deal of turmoil in the Maine political scene."

Already there were four Democrats running for Snowe's seat, including former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and state Rep. John Hinck. But the sudden vacancy means Democrats in both Maine and Washington may look for a stronger challenger.

Candidates have only until March 15 to collect the 2,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot. Maine Democratic officials Tuesday night planned to speak privately with the state's two Democratic members of Congress, Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree. Neither had previously expressed interest in challenging Snowe, but the vacancy changes everything. Michaud issued a statement saying he was "seriously considering" a run.

Despite a disastrous 2010 election in which Republicans won both chambers of the Maine Legislature as well as the governorship, Democrats have traditionally done well at the statewide level in Maine. State voters have not supported a Republican in a presidential contest since 1988.

Snowe was facing her first primary fight this year after cruising to a third term in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote, and was viewed by some as vulnerable because of her moderate position at a time when the tea party was gaining influence in Maine. But she had a healthy war chest and remained popular.

Snowe said she was confident she would have won re-election, but saw a "vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us." She said she sees opportunities to build support for that change from outside the Senate, though she did not elaborate.

"To this day, I remain deeply passionate about public service, and I cherish the opportunity I have been given for nearly four decades to help improve the lives of my fellow Mainers," she said.

Last week, one of her GOP challengers dropped out of the primary, choosing to run as an independent, leaving Scott D'Amboise as the only other GOP candidate in the race, but other Republicans could decide to enter now.

Snowe's decision makes her the third Maine senator in the past two decades to voluntarily relinquish a seat to which they could have won re-election. Democratic Sen. George Mitchell chose not to run in 1994 and Republican Sen. William Cohen did likewise in 1996.

Snowe is married to former Maine Gov. John McKernan. She was widowed at 26 when her first husband, state Rep. Peter Snowe, died in a car crash. She won a 1973 election to fill his vacant seat. Five years later, she was elected to the U.S. House where she served for 16 years before winning her Senate seat.

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Associated Press Writers Steve Peoples, Donna Cassata and Andrew Miga in Washington, Clarke Canfield in Portland and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.

<a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d5512dd561" mce_href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=d5512dd561" >Snowe's Decision</a>

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2007 file photo of Snowe having a laugh with some customers and Jimmy Simones, left at Simones' Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston where she was campaigning

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, center left, speaks with Sen. Susan Collins, left, and and Brunswick Town Councilor Robert Galloupe before the start of a news conference including all of the Maine delegates and Gov. John Baldacci, right, on the BRAC Committee's vote to close Brunswick Naval Air Station in 2005. Snowe announced her retirement Tuesday.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a file photo from 2006 of former Maine Governor John McKernan, right greeting his wife US Senator Olympia Snowe at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn reelection in 2006. Looking on is Dr. Fred Holler of Auburn.

WINSLOW TOWNSON

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2005 file photo of Maine's delegation, left to right, Rep. Mike Michaud, Sen. Olympia Snowe, Sen. Susan Collins, and Rep.Tom Allen listen to testimony before the New England region's Base Realignment and Closure Commission Hearing in Boston Wednesday, July 6, 2005 on the importance of the Brunswick (Maine) Naval Air Station. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2009 file photo of Sen Olympia Snowe responding to questions on prescription drug legistation from senior citizens during a Seniors Plus lunch held a the Multi-Purpose Center.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2006 file photo of US Senator Olympia Snowe getting a bouquet of flowers and a hug from her Aunt Mary Goranites of Auburn during a press conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn where she announced her bid for a third term in the Senate.

Joel Page

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2007 file photo of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, right, and Charlie Summers, of the Small Business Administration, left, walking along a washed-out section of Surf Street Friday, April 20, 2007, in the Ferry Beach section of Saco, Maine. (AP Photo/Joel Page)

Joel Page

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2008 file photo of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, posing in front of the world's largest snowwoman "Olympia" named for Snowe, Tuesday, March 18, 2008 in Bethel, Maine. Old skis were used for her eyelashes, and tires for for smile. Bethel claimed the record for world's tallest snowman in 1999. That snowman was dubbed Angus, King of the Mountain, in honor of then-Gov. Angus King. Olympia rises 122 ft. and one inch, which beats the old record of 114 feet . (AP Photo/Joel Page)

Laura Segall

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2002 file photo of US Senator Olympia Snowe, left, talking with Kennebec Fruit Company owner Frank Anicetti during a campaign stop with State Senate candidate Ken Blais, not pictured, Monday afternoon.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2008 file photo of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. addressing the crowd on the lawn infront of The Maine Military Museum in South Portland Monday afternoon as Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, left and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, right applaud.

J. Scott Applewhite

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2009 file photo of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, center, talking about the agreement on the $789 billion economic stimulus measure designed to create millions of jobs and help take the nation out of recession, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009. She is joined by fellow lawmakers, left to right: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Robert F. Bukaty

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2008 file photo of Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, right, with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, reacting as she sees the crowd waiting for her in an airplane hangar during a campaign stop at the Bangor Airport, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008, in Bangor, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2005 file photo of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe handing over some canned goods to Bruce Wilson, an agency representative for Hope House in Lewiston and a 12-year board member of the Good Shepherd Food-Bank. The senator brought a donation of food to the Auburn food bank before getting a tour of the facility.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a file photo from 2006 of Sen. Olympia Snowe congratulating Lewiston City Councilor Stavros Mendros on the birth of his 2-week-old daughter Florentia during an Election Day rally at the Black Watch Restaurant & Pub in Auburn. Florentia was born on Oct. 25 and is wearing a T-shirt that says "another Greek for Olympia."

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has announced her retirement. This is a 2009 file photo of Paul Poliquin, owner of Paul's Clothing & Shoe Store, speaking with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, about concerns with the current healthcare system at Poliquin's store on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

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Comments

Mike Lachance's picture

When youre a (supposed)

When youre a (supposed) Republican and you get accolades, praise and sympathy from Lurch (John Kerry) you know its time to get out of it.

Jason Theriault's picture

My prediction:

My predictions for Maine(and the next 72 hours will be exciting, because anyone not working at getting the signature by Friday just wont have time):

Democrats:
Chellie Pingree will drop her 1st district run, and go for the Senate.
Her daughter, Hanna Pingree, will run for her mothers congressional seat
Michaud will stay put, running for 2nd district.

GOP:
Kevin Raye will jump into race, dropping his run for the 2nd district. Who knows who will run against Michaud.
Les Otten has been mentioned, but from what I have read, he doesn't sound interested.

Independent:
This is where things get really interesting. You need 4000 signatures, but they don't have to be from only one party. And the deadline for signatures is June, so there is ALOT more time to figure stuff out.
Elliot Cutler - has the political machine and the money to really go at it.
Angus King - No political machine, but still held as a good Governor and might have the money needed to do it.

If I was to bet:

Cutler get mid to high 40ish % of the vote
Raye - high 30%
Pingree - high 20%

BTW - the info is here:
http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/2012guide.pdf

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Bodes well for Dems

With Clint Clobber's, er, LeRage's bombastic, choleric performance thus far, and with little to show in new jobs numbers, along with his threat (among other doozies) to cut DHHS' budget or he'll close the schools, the Dems can almost assuredly win the the seat if they nominate a moderate Democrat with some likability to contrast our current red-faced, mercurial, adversarial embarrassment of a governor. (No, I'm not a fan.)

Bob Stone's picture

Kick Back and Enjoy

OJ and Jock have accumulated millions. Time to enjoy it. It's 5 O'Clock somewhere.

Now the scramble begins to accumulate 2,000 signatures, have them certified and in to the SOS by March 15th. This is a cheap seat and will be heavily sought after.

Pop some popcorn and break out the diet coke. This will be interesting.

Bob Stone's picture

Kick Back and Enjoy

OJ and Jock have accumulated millions. Time to enjoy it. It's 5 O'Clock somewhere.

Now the scramble begins to accumulate 2,000 signatures, have them certified and in to the SOS by March 15th. This is a cheap seat and will be heavily sought after.

Pop some popcorn and break out the diet coke. This will be interesting.

Bob Stone's picture

Kick Back and Enjoy

OJ and Jock have accumulated millions. Time to enjoy it. It's 5 O'Clock somewhere.

Now the scramble begins to accumulate 2,000 signatures, have them certified and in to the SOS by March 15th. This is a cheap seat and will be heavily sought after.

Pop some popcorn and break out the diet coke. This will be interesting.

Robert Groetzinger's picture

You know you have a problem

You know you have a problem when you are driving away your own people

Mike Lachance's picture

Not so much "driving away"

Not so much "driving away" but "kicking the teeth out of" your own people.

Good riddance Snowe.
Now can we get Collins to do the same?

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Mike, as you know I am

Mike, as you know I am definitely NOT a fan of either the republican or the democratic party. With that said, Senator Snowe was someone who I believe sincerely tried to do what she thought was best for the state of Maine and its people. She was one who crossed party lines on numerous occasions and I appreciate the fact that she didn't just "tow the party line".

The other thing I would like to say....this is a great example of what is wrong in this state and the country...PARTY POLITICS....we seem to be more divided then we have ever been and the only way to solve the problems is to come together and put those "Party Politics" aside.

Maybe we get Governor Baldacci in the Senate....I can just hear the moans and groans of the LePage fans now!!!!

Mike Lachance's picture

So, how many Dems "cross

So, how many Dems "cross party lines to vote with Republicans on idealogical issues?
Seems quite apparant that the only ones crossing lines and the only ones "compromising" are Republicans... and when they dont "compromise", they are deemed obstructionists.

When the Dems ran the roost they didnt "come to the middle" let alone "cross party lines"... they didnt, they dont and they never will. The classic political double standard is once again applied. Dems dont compromise. Its the Repubs who are the ones who continually break ranks... well... enough is enough and the only reason our state is "more divided than ever" is because in MAINE the Repubs are in control and the dems no longer have the political monopoly theyve enjoyed for 45 years. Its the screams of those who are no longer in power that are creating the illusion of "division"... for 45 years Maine Republicans sat quietly in the back of the bus while the Dem bus driver speed wrecklessly toward the cliff.

Divided? No. Just a reversal of political fortunes.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

This coming from someone who

This coming from someone who wants Collins to follow Snowe's lead....how many times can I say this....IT IS NOT A DEMOCRATIC OR A REPUBLICAN PROBLEM...IT IS A PROBLEM THAT NEEDS TO BE SOLVED BY ALL AND NOT JUST A FEW

Mike Lachance's picture

Uhhh, ya. Ok. So how about

Uhhh, ya. Ok. So how about Mike Michaud start voting along with Speaker Boehner and Issa. Would Michaud be seen by Maine Dems as "independent" or a turncoat.

Reality Check. Double Standards no longer allowed.

The ALL in question here is the ALL who are completely hypocritical when it comes to praising Snowe and Collins for their "independent" record. Turn teh tables and the hypocrisy becomes glaringly evident.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

How about let's forget who is

How about let's forget who is republican and who is democrat and do what is RIGHT for a change. They work for the people not the parties. The sooner we do away with the party politics the sooner we can get this country and this state on its feet again. Until we do that then all we are going to do is bicker, blame, and stay dead-locked. And until people realize that then we are all in trouble because it will be the same old same old cycle every election. It is time the PEOPLE smarten up and get rid of all party politics

Mike Lachance's picture

Disagreed 100%. But you are

Disagreed 100%.

But you are right in that it IS time people start voting on the issues not the party. Knowing this, how many Dems do you know who have vowed to NOT vote for their DEM representative on a State or National level? How many Tina?

Now, how many Republicans do you know who will NOT vote for Snowe or Collins ever again? When it comes to blind party line voting, the Lib/Dem voter base is the worst offender.

Im a conservative Republican voter who votes on the ISSUES not on the party line. Snowe and Collins will NOT be recieving my vote ever again. I am not alone in this sentiment, as I know many Republicans here in Maine personally who have also made that decision. Additionally, I will not be voting for Romney if he is on the ticket. I'd rather stay home. Do you know any Dems who will admit Obama is a total failure and will be staying home on election day? Doubt it.

How many Democrats do you know who will NOT vote for their Dem on the next ballot?

Party politics works just fine, Tina.
Its the idealogically blind left-wing voters who need help.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Mike I don't know who of my

Mike I don't know who of my friends or acquaintances are Democratic or Republican...I don't personally care. When I discuss the issues with my friends it is based on just that ...the issues....I take the stand on each issue based on my personal opinion of what I think is right. And I know many who believe Obama is a total failure just as I know many who believe Lepage is a total failure as well. Whether they are Democrat or Republican is their business.

There are some good people out there who can talk a good game but when push comes to shove it always comes down to the republicans want this and the democrats want that....it needs to come down to what is best for the people of this state/country.....the sooner we get people into office who also believe this then the sooner we end the party bickering and the dead lock in government and the sooner we get this state/country moving in the right direction again.

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