“All I’m interested in right now from all of our Members is a commitment to balance our budget. Anyone who wants to work with us — Olympia certainly has — that’s what’s important right now,” DeMint said. As for their opinion piece, he said, “That was the whole point of us doing it together, to show the full spectrum of the Republican Party realizes that we can’t get control of debt if we don’t stop spending more than we’re bringing in.”
Snowe has remained active in Maine Republican politics throughout her career and has a close relationship with Gov. Paul LePage (R), who was elected in 2010 with strong tea party support. She hasn’t faced a primary challenger in 14 consecutive elections going back to her tenure in the House, winning most of her general elections by comfortable margins.
But the Senator’s concern as 2012 approaches is well-founded. Conservative advocacy groups and tea party organizations that caused problems for establishment Republican candidates in 2010 are eyeing Snowe, with plans to get involved in her primary if a strong challenger emerges and a sizable grass-roots opposition mobilizes.
National Democrats also are recruiting in Maine, but top Democrats in the state are waiting to see if Snowe is vulnerable to an intraparty challenge, given she has a 60 percent approval rating statewide. (She had a 49 percent approval rating among Republican voters in a March poll conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.) Maine voters must be registered with the party to vote in a primary.
Snowe’s two announced primary foes are not considered formidable, and the Senator might yet escape unscathed given her historical popularity with Maine Republicans. But the somewhat hard line Snowe is taking on the debt ceiling and her voting record — she voted with her party 69 percent during the last Congress and 85 percent during this Congress — may not be enough to absolve the Senator in the eyes of national conservative activists.
“We’re still looking at the big picture of who this person is,” Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said. Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said the conservative group is “continuing to look closely” at getting involved in Maine.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is staying out of Snowe’s primary. But NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said that Maine’s senior Senator is doing everything right to prepare for 2012, noting in particular her fundraising and work on the balanced budget amendment.
Cornyn indicated that he does not foresee a problem for Snowe in the general election, should she win her primary. Democrats might target her, given that Maine has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections, but that would depend on their ability to recruit a top-tier challenger.
“Who would have imagined you’d ever see a joint op-ed with Jim DeMint and Olympia Snowe on the balanced budget amendment? It demonstrates her sensitivity to the issues that are at the forefront of her constituents,” Cornyn said. “In her case, it’s all about the primary. That’s the wild card.”