Updated February 28, 6:15 p.m. ET
In a major development in the race for control of the U.S. Senate, Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe announced Tuesday that she is not running for a fourth term — setting up a serious Republican vulnerability in a state that was previously very safe for them.
In Snowe’s statement, she expressed her confidence that she would have won re-election — which is very likely true, with her retirement now creating a major headache for the GOP. She claims the reason for her retirement is this: she just doesn’t like being in the Senate anymore, with its polarization and combativeness shutting out a moderate like herself.
Key quote from Snowe’s statement:
“With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.
“As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate. I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.
Snowe would likely have won re-election, as she has won by landslides in previous campaigns. Indeed, the only seeming vulnerability she would have had might have been against primary challenger from the right — but even there, a major, mobilized Tea Party challenge has yet to materialize. (Former Lisbon town Selectman Scott D’Amboise has been running, but had yet to make a splash.)
With the popular Snowe now out of the running, the state could very well see a strong push by the Democrats, in a state that has not been carried by the Republican nominee for president since George H.W. Bush’s first race in 1988. In recent years, Barack Obama carried the state by a 58%-41% landslide in 2008, and before that John Kerry carried it by 54%-45%.
Meanwhile, there will be a quick dash on both sides for candidates. Another key point: The filing deadline is in just over two weeks, on March 15.
One Republican strategist pegged state Senate President Kevin Raye, a former aide to Snowe, as a name to watch in the hunt for a new GOP nominee, calling Raye “the real thing.”
One longtime Senate Republican staffer thought that the seat would now shift from safe Republican, to perhaps even leaning Democratic, due to Obama’s likelihood of a strong win in the state. With that said, the staffer could also realistically see the GOP turning to Raye, as someone whose profile could match the typical electability for the state.
There was already a Democratic primary race going on, between state Sen. Cynthia Dill, state Rep. John Hinck, and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. But that could now all change. A Democratic source in Maine told TPM that the state’s two Democratic members of the House, Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, will likely be looking at the race now. It is too early to say, however, whether there would be a primary or if one would yield to the other. (Pingree, a former state senate majority leader, previously ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2002, against the entrenched incumbent Susan Collins. So she might take another bite at the apple.)
Also interesting to note: Michaud and Raye previously ran against each other in 2002, for the open House seat, which Michaud won narrowly. That race was a peculiar match-up relative to most national politics, in that was a contest between a pro-life Democrat and a pro-choice Republican. Raye was already running again for Congress against Michaud, as he is term-limited in the state Senate. Could the same contest happen again — but for the Senate instead?
Additional reporting by Benjy Sarlin.