Late Monday afternoon, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) sent shockwaves through Washington when she announced she would not seek reelection to the US Senate in November.
Snowe, long known as a centrist, cited the “partisanship” of Washington as the reason for her decision. While pro-life advocates may not hold Snowe in the highest regard, her Senate seat was viewed as a safe Republican seat heading into the November elections. Keeping Maine in Republican hands becomes a much more difficult task with Snowe out of the picture.
In 59 scored pro-life votes by the National Right to Life Committee, Snowe voted pro-abortion 46 times. Some of her worst offenses include voting against the ban on partial-birth abortion, against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, against the Mexico City Policy, in favor of federal funding of Planned Parenthood and in favor of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. However, Snowe joined pro-life Senators in opposition to the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law. If she had been reelected in 2012, she would have been a reliable vote for repeal of Obamacare should Republicans retake the White House and Senate. After all, she voted in 2011 for just that. And then two months later voted to block funding for the law. It should also be noted that Snowe vote to confirm pro-life Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Pro-abortion Republican groups like Republicans for Choice and the WISH List have bolstered Snowe’s campaigns over the years. But ironically, Snowe’s decision to step down after the end of the current term actually hurts the pro-life movement in its effort to take back the Senate. While Snowe would hardly be on board in most cases, Snowe’s seat in Maine brought Senate Republicans a step closer to regaining the majority. Without Republican leadership in control of the Senate, and therefore the agenda, pro-life legislation remains virtually dead on arrival.
Pro-life advocates were successful in Maine in 2010 when they elected Governor Paul LePage. However, 2010 was a very different year. In 2012, Maine Republicans will have to contend with high levels of voter turnout due to the presidential race, including increased turnout by Democrats who outnumber the GOP in voter registration. Obama won Maine with little effort in 2008. Also working against pro-life prospects in Maine is the lack of a formidable candidate. Prior to Snowe’s announcement, several Tea Party activists sought to challenge the three-term Senator in the Republican primary. However, it remains to be seen whether any of them have the mainstream appeal to be elected by Maine’s decidedly liberal electorate.
Names being circulated as possible Republican candidates to contend for the seat include 2002 gubernatorial candidate Peter Cianchette, 2010 gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Attorney General Bill Schneider, state Senate President Kevin Raye and Jock McKernan, Snowe’s husband and former Maine governor. Businessman and Tea Party favorite Scott D’Amboise was among those challenging Snowe in the Republican primary.
For the Democrats, Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud could run, as well as former congressman Tom Allen. All three have pro-abortion voting records. Interest on the Democratic side is likely to skyrocket after Snowe’s announcement. However, candidates from both parties have just until March 15th to file to run so those interested will have little time to reach a decision.
“While I would never underestimate the fight ahead in defending any open Senate seat, Republicans remain well-positioned to win back a Senate majority in November,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “While this will be a key battleground in the fall, I am confident it will remain in Republican hands.”
In November, Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats while Republicans have a much more manageable 10. In order to take back Senate control, Republicans need a net gain of 4 seats. North Dakota is seen an easy win for Republicans, however they will have a harder time holding on to the seats held by Senators Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Dean Heller in Nevada. In addition, retiring Senator Kyl (R)’s seat in Arizona is also up for grabs, though the race favors popular Republican Congressman Jeff Flake. Maine had been regarded as a safe Republican seat. With that now in question, more pressure will be on Republicans to pull out wins in competitive races like Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.