The Tea Party Express, which raised and spent millions of dollars to knock off moderate Republicans in Alaska, Colorado and Delaware in the 2010 election cycle, is now going after Olympia Snowe in Maine.
The conservative group, arguably the most organized and best funded campaign tool in the tea party movement, announced Thursday afternoon that it plans to fight the moderate Republican’s 2012 re-election effort. Snowe enjoys tremendous popularity across the political spectrum in her home state, but she has irritated Maine’s small and disjointed tea party movement for her willingness to work with Democrats.
Pine Tree State conservatives have already dubbed “Snowe removal” a top priority for 2012, when Maine’s senior Senator will seek her fourth term. But they have struggled to rally around a single challenger.
“Olympia Snowe dishonors the notion that the Republican Party is supposed to be the fiscally conservative, constitutionalist political party in America,” Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer said in a statement.
“She voted for the bailouts, the failed stimulus plan, the repeal of tax cuts and showed her disdain for the constitution by voting in favor of the nominations of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotamayer to the Supreme Court,” Kremer said in the statement, which misspelled Sotomayor’s last name.
Snowe’s chief of staff, John Richter, countered that the Tea Party Express was “obviously ... totally unfamiliar with her record on fiscal responsibility.”
“The idea that Senator Snowe dishonors the notion that Republicans are the fiscally conservative party is absurd,” he wrote to Roll Call on Thursday, listing her effort in 2001 to preserve federal surpluses and pay down the national debt, as well as her support for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
The Tea Party Express also announced Thursday that it will go after Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in 2012. The two names are additions to a target list that already includes Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), and a complete list will be released this year.
The involvement of the Tea Party Express in Maine’s Senate race could be a game changer. The group played a central role in the campaign to defeat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska GOP primary last year. Although she lost in the primary to tea party favorite Joe Miller, Murkowski ultimately won re-election as a write-in candidate in the general election.
Former Rep. Mike Castle wasn’t so lucky in Delaware. After its Alaska success, the Tea Party Express focused its resources on knocking off the moderate Republican in favor of perennial candidate Christine O’Donnell. Although Castle was well ahead of Democratic challenger Chris Coons in the general election polls, he did not survive the Republican primary against O’Donnell, largely because of the efforts of the Tea Party Express. Coons went on to soundly defeat O’Donnell in November.
The organization was a fundraising force in those races, and it has already begun raising money to fight Snowe.
“As tea party activists we have a responsibility to support fiscally responsible, constitutional conservatives — and Olympia Snowe is about as far as one can get from that,” the Tea Party Express wrote to supporters in a fundraising message Thursday evening.
“Olympia Snowe doesn’t respect the responsibility of her job to serve the American people — she instead serves the liberal interests of the news media and Washington, D.C. political establishment,” the message added. “It’s time for her to be voted out of office once and for all!
“We need to defeat Olympia Snowe. Please help us with the most generous contribution you can afford.”
To capitalize on the Republican infighting, Maine Democrats will need to recruit a challenger, even though they are generally pleased with Snowe’s moderate record.
Neither Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) nor Rep. Mike Michaud (D) is thought to be interested. Former gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli (D) is openly considering a run, but she told Roll Call last month that Snowe would have to move decidedly to the right to persuade her to run.
Democrats’ best chance, according to Scarcelli, will come if Snowe shifts her positions sharply to the right to fend off a primary challenge. But at this point, Scarcelli said she’s “proud” of her potential opponent.
Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) “are both good moderates,” Scarcelli said. “Olympia’s challenge right now, her fear is that she will have a very conservative opponent. My concern for all of us is that she’s going to have to tack far to the right to maintain her base. But I am proud of our women Senators. It would be a tremendous challenge to run for her seat. But if there’s a primary challenge, it’s something we need to look hard at, whether it’s me or someone else.”