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Tea Partyers Struggle to Unite Against Snowe

Senator Shores Up Conservative Support With LePage Backing as the Mystery Challenger Is Revealed

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The conservative push to oust moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe may be over before it ever really began.

Developments in recent weeks have exposed a fractured and disappointed tea party movement, even as one of Maine’s loudest tea party voices has emerged as a likely Snowe challenger. The fissure became more pronounced after Gov.-elect Paul LePage (R) declared he would back Snowe regardless of whether a more conservative candidate surfaces.

The announcement knocked the wind out of local tea party groups that had helped propel LePage to victory less than six weeks ago.

“I was kind of surprised — quite a bit, actually,” said Pete “the Carpenter” Harring, leader of the state’s largest tea party group, the Maine Refounders, and a member of LePage’s transition team. “I think it will make it a little more difficult [to defeat Snowe]. You’re going to have devoted Republicans that go by what the governor says. ... But it’s still my top priority. As far as I’m concerned, lifetime politicians need to go, period.”

Political observers don’t expect LePage’s decision — prompted by a personal connection to Snowe’s late husband — to persuade conservatives to abandon their quest to knock off Snowe. But some suggest that a passionate tea party push without LePage’s backing would ultimately have little effect.

“The only real, viable political activism in the state tied to the tea party was LePage’s machine. The Tea Party Patriots and all the other groups you would normally look to for activity and organization and volunteers and all that — they are all incredibly small and weak,” said a Maine Republican operative with significant ties to establishment and tea party groups. “His support for Snowe should deflate a lot of that grass-roots fire, activism — a lot of it.”

The infighting may be problematic as well. 

Local conservatives have thus far rejected an opportunity to rally around the budding candidacy of one of their own.

Maine’s Tea Party Patriots state coordinator, Andrew Ian Dodge, hinted for weeks that he had intimate knowledge of a viable Snowe challenger, but he refused to name the person. It became clear in recent days that the mystery candidate is none other than Dodge himself.

Dodge would not confirm his candidacy outright, but he did not refute a report in a local blog suggesting that he planned to run.

“They said I had an awful start to the campaign,” Dodge said of the blog story. “How can that be, considering I don’t have a campaign yet?”

Any formal announcement would come in the new year, he said. And that’s too soon for Harring.

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