Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe, announced on Monday that she would not be seeking a fourth term. Snowe was seen as one of the few moderate Republicans left in the Senate, alongside fellow Mainer Susan Collins, and, to some extent, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Some Democrats see the change in Maine as a good opportunity to pick up a seat previously barred from them. In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain in the state by 18 points. Maine often leans Democratic in presidential elections, but has been represented in the United States Senate since 1995. Maine is home to many independent voters, who pride themselves on their independence from the two major political parties.
Snowe’s departure from the Senate leaves Collins and Brown as the two lone Republicans willing to cross party-lines on certain issues. While occasionally there are votes that have majority support from both parties in the Senate, more often than not, votes come down to party line votes. Without moderates in each party willing to work with members of the other party, it is likely that there will only be more gridlock in Congress, as more partisan Senators replace those who were more moderate.
Olympia Snowe has been one of the most prominent female politicians in the United States, and is the second longest-serving female member of Congress, behind Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. Snowe was listed by Time as one of the 10 best Senators of 2006, the only female Senator to make the list. Snowe’s tenure as Maine’s senior Senator was marked by her close connection to her constituents, making the trip back to her home state nearly every weekend to visit with Mainers to see what was on their minds. Snowe’s eye on working for her constituents may have been one of the reasons why she was so successful in the state, winning her two re-election campaigns in 2000 and 2006 by 37 and 54 percentage points, respectively.
Senator Snowe was the favorite to win the seat in the fall, and while the highly charged partisan nature of the current poetical climate is not directly responsible for her decision to retire from the Senate (i.e. being primaried out of a job), the tone of the debate and the demonizing of moderation and compromise is certainly a factor. Other Senators from both parties could take a page from Senator Snowe’s book, working to serve the needs of their own constituents rather than pandering to national organizations that benefit from ideological polarization and general negative campaigning.