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Snowe Moves to Shore Up Right Flank for 2012

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Olympia Snowe, followed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, heads to a shuttle bus Tuesday taking Senators to the burial of former Sen. Ted Stevens at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sen. Olympia Snowe is bracing for the possibility of a brutal GOP primary in 2012 after watching as conservative activists turned on Republican moderates and longtime incumbents this year and targeted them for defeat — sometimes successfully.

An interview with the Maine Republican on Tuesday revealed her focus on her re-election bid and her recognition that the tea party activism influencing several House and Senate primaries this year could last well beyond this election cycle.

“I’ve been a Republican for all of my political life, since I was registered to vote. I’ve always been part and parcel of the Republican Party,” Snowe said. “It’s where I grew up. It’s where I grew in the Legislature in learning how to govern and how to legislate — which is to build bridges. That’s what Maine has been all about. That doesn’t mean that you sacrifice your principles in order to accomplish that; to the contrary.”

“I’ve been at the forefront of a number of anti-spending initiatives [and] fiscal issues,” Snowe continued. “I agree with tea party types when they say that the Republican Party lost its way. I agree. I was arguing that case for many years.”

Snowe could face several challenges in her quest for a fourth term.

Maine’s primary elections are reserved for party members only, and they might seek retribution for her vote for President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill and her willingness to negotiate on health care reform. Snowe voted against the final health care bill, but she did support the version reported out of the Senate Finance Committee.

State GOP activists have exhibited a particularly conservative streak over the past two years. But key factors could tilt any primary challenge in Snowe’s favor — particularly her close relationship with Waterville Mayor Paul LePage (R), who is poised to be elected as Maine’s next governor and is supported by conservative activists throughout the state. A LePage endorsement in a contested 2012 primary could help quell any dissatisfaction with Snowe in the Republican base.

Snowe has been campaigning and fundraising on LePage’s behalf — and according to a Republican operative based in Maine, the Senator for years has actively supported state party operations and downballot GOP candidates. And Snowe spends a considerable amount of time in Maine.

These elements would help her weather a stiff primary challenge, should one materialize.

“She’s going to be fine but will have to pay more attention to her primary than in the past,” the Maine GOP operative said. “If a serious candidate came in — a well-known wealthy businessman, for example — that could be a problem.”

The only Republican to announce against Snowe thus far is small-business man and 2006 House nominee Scott D’Amboise. In a nod to the tea party, D’Amboise’s biography on his 2012 Senate campaign website closes with this line: D’Amboise “understands the meaning of We The People and is dedicated toward returning our government to one that functions within its proper role.”

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