The Maine Republican's decision to retire is a blow to GOP hopes for retaking control of the Senate in November.
The species known as the moderate Republican seemed to move one step closer to extinction on Tuesday when Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine announced that she will not run for reelection this year.
"After an extraordinary amount of reflection and consideration, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate," Snowe said in a statement on the Maine Republican Party's Facebook page.
Snowe's surprise announcement that she will not seek a fourth term has dramatic resonance. As one of the last of the truly moderate Republicans, Snowe is part of a breed that's disappearing from Congress. Her vacating a seat in a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 greatly strengthens the Democrats' chances of holding on to the Senate, and it gives strategists at the National Republican Senatorial Committee reason to cry in their beers.
GOP officials in Washington were given little notice by Snowe of her decision. One senior GOP source said Snowe only informed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Sen. John Cornyn, the NRSC chair, of her decision this afternoon. She had more than $3 million in the bank and was on cruise control in her reelection bid, giving Republicans no reason to believe that she was heading toward a retirement.
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Aside from the electoral implications, Snowe will be missed in the corridors of the Capitol, where she was a trailblazing woman in the Senate and a well-liked figure with friends on both sides of the aisle. Her long service stretches back to the 1970s in the House of Representatives, where she made friends with Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican who went on to become Senate majority leader and who helped her elevation. On the Armed Services Committee, she was known as a thoughtful hawk who looked out for Maine's military installations. And on issues like abortion rights, which she favors, and the impeachment of President Clinton, which she opposed, she cut a unique figure. She voted for President Obama's stimulus package and the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill.