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Snowe Uses Debt Debate to Show Conservative Cred

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Threatened by the prospect of a competitive GOP primary just 11 months from now, Sen. Olympia Snowe is using the partisan battle over the debt ceiling to paint herself as a conservative stalwart.

The moderate Maine Republican isn’t being shy about calling for greater fiscal discipline and highlighting her long-standing support for a balanced budget amendment, both of which are issues that could help her with tea party activists frustrated by her long record of bipartisanship.

Snowe penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last week promoting the constitutional amendment she coauthored with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a champion among tea partyers for the strong backing he lent conservatives who ran in contested primaries in 2010.

On Tuesday, Snowe followed up the opinion piece, which DeMint co-wrote, with an email fundraising appeal referencing her collaboration with DeMint and reiterating her push to enact fiscal reforms during her three terms.

The Senator disavows the notion that campaign politics have influenced her work on Capitol Hill. But during a brief interview with Roll Call, it was clear that Snowe is sensitive to suggestions that she may have changed her position on budget matters to satisfy Republican primary voters displeased with a centrist voting record that is a perfect fit for usually left-leaning Maine.

“Do you know my history? You’re all feeding into conventional wisdom. That’s the point,” Snowe said, scolding reporters. “You all just arrived here, I’ve been here, and I have a record on the balanced budget amendment, so no one should be surprised — anybody who knows me.”

Snowe added that she has supported a balanced budget amendment since she became a Member of the House in 1979.

“There’s no deviation. So no one should be surprised,” she said. “I’ve been very loyal to my traditional roots of fiscal responsibility as a Republican.”

Snowe told the Bangor Daily News she would not vote to cut Medicare or Social Security as part of a debt ceiling deal, although she declined on Tuesday to rule out anything — including a package that does not include the balanced budget amendment — until she reviews the final deal.

DeMint, who has raised millions of dollars for insurgent Senate Republican primary candidates through his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee, said he found nothing odd about his partnership with Snowe on the balanced budget amendment. He chalked it up to the broad support fiscal restraint now enjoys among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

DeMint does not plan to get involved in 2012 primaries with GOP incumbents.

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