PORTLAND – The TV advertisements attacking Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe have made a splash this week because of their provocative comparison between Snowe’s opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts and France’s opposition to the Iraq war.

But the 30-second spots airing in Maine and Ohio, home of moderate GOP Sen. George Voinovich, may not be having the kind of impact intended by the Club for Growth, the Washington-based tax-cut advocacy group that’s behind them.

As President Bush stumps for his tax cut proposal Thursday in Ohio, Democrats are enjoying the rare GOP infighting, while some political observers are questioning the savvy and judgment behind the ads.

In the ads, Snowe and Voinovich are pictured in front of the tripartite French flag, an image meant to convey disloyalty.

“America needs strong allies abroad, and President Bush needs strong supporters in the Senate,” the narrator remarks. “Hey, Olympia Snowe: Join President Bush’s fight to cut taxes and fix the economy.”

That approach puzzles Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, who noted that both Snowe and Voinovich have substantial moderate constituencies.

“It almost sounds like ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I mean, what are you thinking?” Loomis asked.

The Club for Growth began airing the spots after Snowe and Voinovich joined Democrats in questioning big tax cuts in a time of rising deficits and war.

The president, recognizing congressional opposition to his original $726 billion tax cut proposal, is now calling for $550 billion worth of reductions over 10 years.

But Snowe and Voinovich have drawn the line at $350 billion. Republicans Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and John McCain of Arizona oppose any tax cuts in a Senate where the GOP holds a slim 51-49 majority.

The Club for Growth has occasionally tried to unseat moderate Republicans in GOP primaries, but Snowe represents a state with a strong independent tradition and her term does not expire until 2006.

Voinovich, a first-term senator whose term ends next year, represents a state with a larger base of conservative voters, said Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster based in Alexandria, Va.

But she added, “I don’t think Senator Voinovich is in any significant trouble. Frankly I think it’s a waste of money in both cases.”

David Keating, the Club for Growth’s executive director, said Tuesday he hopes the ads serve as a warning to GOP moderates not to oppose important administration initiatives.

Loomis doesn’t think the tactic will work.

“I’m sure Lincoln Chafee is quaking in his boots,” he said sarcastically. “Yeah, John McCain is really worried about this.”

GOP pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick said Snowe and Voinovich are both safe bets for re-election, but she argued that similar ads by the Club for Growth elsewhere have brought about changes in voting.

“They’ve proven the impact of these ads in very specific races,” she said. “Those politicians become more conservative in their voting.”

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the ads is the disparaging use of the French flag in Maine, a state where 23 percent of residents claim French heritage.

Conservatives often brand Washington liberals as out-of-touch insiders, but that charge applies to themselves in this case, Loomis said.

Christian Potholm, a political science professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, added: “It’s a badge of honor to be Franco-American. I can’t imagine anything stupider on their part.”

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