Sen. Olympia Snowe has raised more than $877,000 in the first quarter of 2011, setting what is believed to be a record in Maine politics as she prepares to fend off looming challenges from the right and left in 2012.
Snowe, a 64-year-old moderate Republican seeking her fourth term, finished the quarter with more than $2 million on hand, campaign treasurer Richard Bennett told Roll Call on Monday afternoon.
“I think this is a very strong start. Having more than $2 million in the bank at this point is amazing,” Bennett said. “I believe it’s a record for a federal office [in Maine] in the first quarter of an election cycle.”
Filings with the Federal Election Commission suggest that Bennett is correct. Snowe raised just $389,000 in the first quarter of the 2006 cycle. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) came much closer, having raised $830,000 in the first quarter of the 2008 cycle.
Snowe has been aggressively courting major donors, according to Bennett, who said that the Senator also got some help this quarter, from Jan. 1 to March 31, from her Senate colleague.
“The first appeal that went out was a letter from Sen. Collins herself, asking her supporters to help Sen. Snowe’s re-election bid,” Bennett said. “Sen. Snowe also has been doing a lot of personal appeals — going to major donors who have been her strong supporters in the past.”
The strong start is a reflection of the political realities of the time. Bennett didn’t cite any specifics, but it’s no secret that moderate Republicans are a dying breed in American politics, particularly with the rise of the tea party movement.
Grass-roots conservatives used low-turnout primaries to knock off moderates in favor of more conservative Republicans such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada in 2010.
And Maine’s fractured tea party movement has made “Snowe removal” a top priority, although it has yet to rally around a single candidate. Snowe is generally popular among Maine Democrats, who are basing challenges in part on whether she shifts sharply to the right in the coming months to appeal to her base.
“Particularly in this climate I think you have to be ready for any challenges that come up,” Bennett said, adding that the campaign is largely volunteer at this point (Snowe spent just $62,000 in the quarter) but is about to start hiring professional staff.
“It’s a different world now,” he said.
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