Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) says she’ll retire, citing partisanship in Congress
Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who for 33 years in Congress has personified an increasingly unfashionable Republican centrism, said she won't seek re-election, taking a final shot at the Senate's partisanship.
"I do find it frustrating...that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions," she said Tuesday.
The decision, which took members of both parties by surprise, transforms this year's battle for the Senate. Democrats hold a 53-47 advantage in the chamber. But because they have to defend 23 seats to the Republicans' 10, most analysts have said the GOP has a good shot at retaking the Senate.
That just became harder, because Maine is a Democratic-leaning state. President Barack Obama won it by 17 percentage points in 2008, and Democrats say they are in a strong position to replace Ms. Snowe with a Democrat. Maine's filing deadline for congressional candidates is March 15, so Ms. Snowe's announcement gives the GOP little time to recruit a strong candidate.
Tuesday's announcement also reflects the dwindling number of centrists of both parties in the Senate. Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.), a fellow centrist, faces a tough race for re-election. On the other side of the aisle, Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who usually votes with the Democrats, are both retiring.
Ms. Snowe fills the role of a centrist as much as anyone in the chamber. In early 2009, she was one of three Republicans who voted for Mr. Obama's stimulus law.
That year, she also voted for Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul at the committee level, declaring, "When history calls, history calls." She later voted against the bill on the floor.
Ms. Snowe, 65, is enormously popular in Maine. She was first elected to the state legislature in 1973, taking the place of her husband, who had died in an auto accident.
In her latest Senate election, in 2006, she won with 74% of the vote. But she said politics had become more bitter recently. "I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," Ms. Snowe said in her statement Tuesday.
See also The Washington Post.