AUGUSTA — Former tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge announced Wednesday that he’s abandoning his Republican primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, following last week’s controversy over the Maine Republican caucuses.

Dodge said he will run as an independent.

On Wednesday, Dodge, 43, said he’s been a registered Republican since he turned 18. He said he decided to leave the party after the Maine GOP’s handling of the nonbinding caucuses, which was criticized for disenfranchising voters.

The party initially didn’t count voting results from some towns and counties in the final tally, and declared Mitt Romney the winner. Critics claimed it was an effort by party leaders to bolster Romney, the so-called establishment presidential pick.

Last week, besieged GOP Chairman Charlie Webster responded to those complaints, saying some of the votes had been lost in his e-mail spam folder.

Dodge didn’t buy that excuse, nor did he appreciate what he described as Webster’s “patronizing attitude” toward those who were upset by how the caucuses were handled.

“Webster belittled members of his own party to save his own skin,” Dodge said. “He said people who were complaining were wing nuts … I joined the tea party because we were bringing people into the Republican party. What the Maine GOP is doing is exactly the opposite.”

Dodge added that Webster’s excuse that caucus results went into a “spam folder” was “so bad it’s beyond comment.”

Webster and other GOP state party leaders did eventually agree to recount all caucus votes and to include late caucus votes in the final tally. Romney was still declared the winner.

Dodge also said he didn’t believe he’d receive a fair shot in the GOP primary. “This whole thing is about Snowe getting re-elected now,” he said.

Dodge had been one of two Republican candidates seeking to challenge Snowe. Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls is now the lone Republican challenger. 

Dodge has yet to file a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission because he has yet to earn $5,000 in donations.

He also may have fallen short of the 2,000-signature threshold to get on the June ballot. Had he continued to seek participation in the GOP primary, he would have had to submit the certified signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office by March 15. 

Dodge would not say how many signatures he had obtained before deciding to leave the party. 

“It’s irrelevant,” he said. “We could have gotten them if we really pushed it.”

As an independent, Dodge has until June to obtain 4,000 signatures to get on the November ballot. 

Four Democratic candidates are hoping to get a shot at Snowe in November: Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and Portland home-builder Benjamin Pollard.

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