Will Olympia Snowe Switch Parties?

Senate Democrats are reportedly targeting the moderate Maine Republican

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In the days since the midterm tsunami, the bulk of party-switching speculation has centered on GOP efforts to woo moderate Democrats. But could the most high-profile defection actually come from a Republican? It's at least a possibility, reports National Journal, with Democrats making "new overtures to Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to switch teams." This isn't the first time the idea of Snowe crossing the aisle has come up, but the possibility she could face a Tea Party-backed primary challenge in 2012 makes "taking another run at her now seem worth it." Would the move make sense for Snowe and Democrats?

  • Toxic Political Climate  Snowe's brand of centrism doesn't mesh with the Tea Party's vision of the GOP, writes National Journal's Jeremy Jacobs. She represents a tempting target for "conservatives hungry to take out one of the leading moderates in their party." Snowe has established a reputation as "one of the least reliable Republican votes" in the Senate, and the state's conservative activists are "emboldened after electing a Tea Party favorite to the governorship." The one thing working in Snowe's favor is Maine's lack of Republican talent. "The only candidate to express interest challenging her so far," notes Jacobs, "is businessman Scott D'Amboise, a second-tier candidate."
  • Switch Not A Guarantee  Even if Snowe did switch parties, cautions The Washington Post's Marc Thiessen, there is no guarantee Maine Democrats will be happy giving their nomination to a former Republican, or that she could even win in the general election. Thiessen cites the example of Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, who switched parties in 2009 but lost his primary bid earlier this year to Joe Sestak. "As Arlen Specter showed, switching parties does not necessarily guarantee winning a Democratic Senate nomination. Snowe could face a tough primary fight regardless of whether she runs as a Democrat or a Republican." If she stay with the GOP, it will be difficult for her to reestablish her conservative credentials because, after last week's election, "Republicans don't need her vote anymore."
  • No Downside  Snowe might identify as a Republican, but Republicans don't identify with her, says Salon's Steve Kornacki. "She's not nearly conservative enough for a restive GOP electorate that demonstrated over and over this year its willingness to vote for literally anyone (O'Donnell, Angle, Miller) instead of a perceived RINO," Kornacki writes. "Already Snowe is running about even with a potential GOP primary challenger in polling." Kornacki makes the case that the only thing Snowe would have to change if she switched parties is the letter in front of her name. "Joining the Democrats wouldn't force Snowe to change her voting habits too much and it would liberate her from the increasingly uncompromising demands of the GOP base."
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