It’s a story line that the Washington media just can’t seem to get enough of — Maine’s three-term Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe will be upset by a tea party challenger in 2012.

And when you read such speculation, you just have to wonder how many of these people have spent time on the ground in Maine. Not many, we are willing to wager.

The story line is so over-written that if you Google “Olympia Snowe tea party challenge” you will have 264,000 entries to peruse.

Fueling the speculation is a very old poll (November, 2009) by Public Policy Polling that reportedly found only 31 percent of Maine Republicans would favor Snowe for another term in office, while 59 percent preferred someone more conservative.

After last year’s June primary, the same group speculated that Paul LePage’s election and tea party connections spelled the end for Snowe.

“Simply put, if a well-funded tea party candidate targets Olympia Snowe in the primary in 2012, I think she will lose,” predicted Tom Jensen on the PPP blog in June, 2010.

He said Snowe’s only chance would be to switch parties or become an independent.

One thing wrong with the ominous warning. Between the primary and November election, Snowe endorsed LePage and campaigned with him around the state.

Also dicey is the proposition that Snowe is guaranteed a “well-funded tea party candidate” in 2012.

So far, two candidates have stepped forward to challenge her and neither has deep pockets, name recognition or elective experience in Maine.

Scott D’Amboise, from Lisbon Falls, ran against Mike Michaud in 2006, and lost by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. And that’s in the more conservative Second Congressional District.

The other challenger is a guy with tea party cred, Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, former coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots in Maine.

Dodge recently announced his candidacy at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Dodge has very little name recognition in Maine and a quirky personality that will not serve him well in a campaign.

For Snowe, the more the better. The way things stand now, Dodge and D’Amboise would split the righter-than-right wing of the party, practically guaranteeing a Snowe primary victory.

Of course, such a matchup is more than a year away, and a lot of things can and will happen between now and then.

Predictably, Snowe will be more cautious about reaching across the aisle and leading the way on political compromises in the Senate.

The jury, meanwhile, is still out on how the tea party will fair over time.

One of its stalwarts, TV announcer Glenn Beck, seems to be losing credibility (and TV ratings) hand over fist. The other, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is sinking lower and lower in ratings.

In mid-January, a Gallup Poll found 53 percent of Americans viewed Palin unfavorably and 38 percent favorably.

The final thing to consider is that Republicans may be more cautious about electing ideologically pure tea party Senate candidates after high-profile defeats in Rhode Island and Nevada.

There, seats that should have gone Republican remained Democratic after the party elected poorly qualified candidates in primaries.

Is it better to elect someone who is with you 100 percent and can’t be elected, or someone who is with you 80 percent of the time and is a proven winner?

Snowe certainly falls in the latter category.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.


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