His formal answer, however, left the door open just a crack: “I have never run for political office, and I have no immediate plans to do so.”
While there has been speculation that she might run as an Independent or even become a Democrat, Snowe has moved in recent months to strengthen her conservative credentials. She supported the stimulus package and was the only Republican to endorse a version of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but she opposed the final bill and signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief earlier this month challenging a central provision of the new law.
“I’ve been at the forefront of a number of anti-spending initiatives [and] fiscal issues,” Snowe told Roll Call in late September. “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.”
But members of Maine’s fractured tea party movement say it’s too little, too late.
“Olympia is a little bit too far to the left for our liking. I often ask myself why she’s a Republican,” said Pete “The Carpenter” Harring, the leader of the Maine ReFounders, a tea party organization with no affiliation to Dodge’s group.
Harring said he isn’t aware of the candidate Dodge is touting but acknowledged that his group is “aggressively trying to locate someone” who will challenge Snowe from the right. Scott D’Amboise, a small-business owner and former town selectman, has already announced a bid, but tea party groups have been reluctant to back him. They criticize him as a former Congressional candidate simply trying to ride the tea party’s enthusiasm to victory.
Overall, Harring said, Maine’s conservative movement has never been more excited — it recently helped elect a tea-party-approved Republican governor and GOP majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature. As proof of the tea party’s newfound clout in the Pine Tree State, Harring is serving on Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s transition team, an appointment that Dodge criticized.
The little public polling on the 2012 race suggests that Snowe has cause for concern, even though she has overwhelmingly won her past re-election bids.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans polled in September would have chosen a more conservative alternative to Snowe if given the opportunity, according to a poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. And while she is popular among independents and even some Democrats, just 39 percent of likely Republican primary voters approved of the three-term Senator’s job performance.
Still, the state Republican establishment couldn’t be more supportive.
“We don’t get involved in primaries at the party level, but I can’t imagine anyone would seriously consider running against Olympia,” said state GOP Chairman Charlie Webster, blasting any suggestion that the Senator might leave the party. “She’d never change parties. She’s married to a former Republican governor. She’s been a lifelong Republican. There’s no way she’d switch parties. It’s not even logical.”