PORTLAND — Georgia Chomas would not betray the private conversations she's had with Olympia Snowe — her cousin, her "sister."
But Chomas, one of Snowe's closest confidantes, said that if people wanted to know what prompted Maine's iconic U.S. senator to bid adieu after more than 34 years of public service, they need only watch Snowe as she held court following a news conference in Portland on Friday.
"Do you see that smile?" asked Chomas, of Auburn, gesturing at Snowe as she shook hands and traded stories with well-wishers. "She is relieved. It's been so grueling the last couple of months. To me, that smile is a million dollars."
Chomas added, "She is really at peace with this. This is what's right."
"This," of course, was the news of the week: Snowe had abandoned her re-election bid for the U.S. Senate. The bombshell announcement rippled nationally. The effects are still being sorted out. Would-be successors continue to weigh ambitions and reservations. National political operatives are exerting pressure, calculating their best chances to achieve power in Washington, D.C.
Snowe soon will leave all that behind. The two-party system isn't broken, she said, but the all-or-nothing actors wielding influence have compromised lawmakers' ability to get things done.
"What used to be known as the 'sensible center' has virtually disappeared in Washington," she said at the Embassy Suites Hotel at the Portland Jetport.
In its place, Snowe said, is an all-or-nothing atmosphere that leaves too much time for campaigning and not enough for governing. There is no room for moderates like herself, she said.
"I know no other way," she said. "Some people like to say that being a moderate is a capitulation of principles. It is not."
The comment was met with loud applause. The room was filled with politicians, many of whom don't embrace the centrist approach upon which Snowe's legacy has been built.
Her Democratic opponents challenge that legacy. She has voted with her Republican Party more often than not, they say. She has tacked right to retain power. They say that, too.
But to those who believe there is more to her sudden departure than her fatigue with the partisan divide, Snowe offered no hint of anything else.
She turned 65 last week. The milestone, she said, offered a broader perspective on what her future should be.
"There was no clarifying moment," she said. "When I turned 65, I had the opportunity to think about a macro decision."
Snowe's abrupt move has put her Republican Party in a bind, in Maine and nationally. Did she consider that?
"I didn't," she said. "This was entirely a personal decision. This had nothing to do with my party."
The right flank of her party has always been tough on her, but more so lately. A smattering of boos broke out when she spoke during the Maine GOP caucuses several weeks ago. Earlier this week, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch sent a mailer to voters warning that if he wasn't re-elected, Snowe could become the Senate chairwoman of the Finance Committee.
Moderate ideology has been assailed during the GOP presidential campaign.
Snowe downplayed her differences with the tea party. She met many tea party folks, she said. They understood each other. Additionally, she said, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a tea party-backed governor, had her back when she decided last year she was going to seek re-election.
The re-election bid was running full throttle before Snowe hit the brakes Tuesday night. Her war chest had nearly $4 million. Polls showed her demolishing her opponents — Republicans, Democrats and others.
"What has always gotten me up in the morning is the promise of producing results," she said, adding that she didn't see that opportunity anymore. "I do not see the polarization that stands in the way of getting things done ending anytime soon."
If the art of compromise is lost in partisan gridlock, what does that mean for her successor? Is she or he doomed to a do-nothing, eternal-campaigning fate?
"There can be room for moderates," Snowe said. "But they'll have to make that part of what gets them elected. The majority of American people are in the center in some way or another."
The press conference ended with questions about her future. Would she enlist in one of the national groups championing the center of the electorate? Snowe was noncommittal, saying she would forge a path where the center always has a voice in public policy decision-making.
For now, she said, she will finish her time in office the way her congressional career began in 1994: On her terms.
As Snowe took more questions from a scrum of reporters, her cousin, her confidante, Georgia Chomas, looked on.
"She always trusts her instincts," Chomas said. "She's made the right move."