A number of Republicans may consider running, whether Kohl decides to retire or not. Though Republican Rep. Paul Ryan has long been suspected of having Senate ambitions, he may be more inclined to stay in the House now that he stands to chair the Budget Committee. However, Ryan is term-limited by House GOP rules and would need to seek a waiver to keep the budget gavel beyond 2012. If he doesn’t run, state Rep. Mike Huebsch has been mentioned, as have previous Senate candidates, including 2006 nominee Tim Michels.
Rep. Ron Kind, who barely won his re-election bid in 2010, has been mentioned as a Democrat who might run if Kohl decides to retire.
Snowe’s greatest threat in 2012 will likely come from the right.
Having already served three terms in the Senate, the moderate Republican enjoys overwhelming popularity statewide and a healthy bank account. A late October survey set her approval rating at 56 percent, and she reported $1.2 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.
But if there’s one lesson from the 2010 cycle, it’s that moderate Republicans are susceptible to tea-party-backed primary attacks. Local tea party activists have already vowed to knock off Snowe. And it’s likely that a conservative with decent name recognition could tap into the national stream of conservative energy (and money) to launch a legitimate primary attack.
A September survey conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggests that Snowe’s safest bet may come from a run as an Independent.
Just 39 percent of likely Republican primary voters approved of her job performance, and 64 percent said she was too liberal. When asked if they would support Snowe or a more conservative challenger, 63 percent of those surveyed selected the generic challenger.
This very well could turn into a replay of the 2010 Delaware race, where a tea-party-backed conservative knocked off a popular moderate in the Republican primary, essentially handing the seat to the Democrat in the general election.
The question, however, is whether Maine Democrats will find a credible challenger to take advantage of the situation.
Most are waiting to see how Snowe, first elected in 1994, proceeds. But keep an eye on Rosa Scarcelli. She lost a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary but earned respect as a smart, young candidate with a strong business background.
For now, expectations in the state are that Feinstein will run for a fourth full term. While speaking at a campaign event last month for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), the Los Angeles Times reported, Feinstein let it slip that she plans to run again in 2012, when she will turn 79.
Other Democrats like Lt. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could be interested should she opt out. But the more pressing question is which Republicans will step forward after a strong challenge to Boxer by Carly Fiorina ended up unsuccessful, despite heavy spending from the national party in a GOP wave cycle.