by Greg Ammons
Coastal Journal contributor
BATH — If U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe is feeling the political heat at her right flank at the moment, she's not showing it. The Maine Republican was spotted walking along Front Street in Bath last Thursday, talking with passers-by and shop owners while conducting an interview by an NBC News crew and its correspondent Kelly O'Donnell. She included Bath in her two-day constituent visit along with time spent in Portland, Lewiston and Waterville.
"I can't imagine they would," Snowe replied when asked if she was expecting a primary fight from the conservative wing of her party should she decide to run for re-election in 2012. "I don't know why — we get along."
But do they? On the heels of election night results 16 days ago, political analysts have been abuzz with speculation over a conservative purging of moderates going on within the Republican Party, with the 23rd District of New York representing the proverbial first shot fired a la Fort Sumter, ironic given that that seat had been occupied by a Republican since the Civil War. Not anymore.
Were it not for the purge this fall, the winner very likely would have been Dede Scozzafava, the moderate Republican who had a comfortable lead until former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced her support for the ultra-conservative Doug Hoffman. The Republican National Committee, Republican members of Congress, and conservative Talk Radio wags all followed suit with their endorsements of Hoffman, prompting Scozzafava to withdraw from the race. And yet, enough moderates and independent voters sided with Owens effectively countering the passion for Hoffman by his followers.
Undeterred, the conservative movement is now targeting the higher profile Florida Governor Charlie Crist, running for the U.S. Senate. Generally considered a moderate, the heretofore popular Crist is running an uphill battle with his own party who are trending toward the conservative darling Marco Rubio. That Crist is pro-choice and supported President Obama's Stimulus spending earlier this year will earn himself no quarter with Evangelicals and Tea-baggers, and makes him especially vulnerable to the overall rightist movement nationwide.
And the same holds true for Olympia Snowe. According to a Public Policy Poll posted online November 10th, Snowe is still fairly popular among Maine Democrats and moderates in and out of her party; it's the majority Republican conservatives who disapprove of her by 56 to 29 percent. Moreover, those conservatives polled say they would vote for a generic conservative challenger over Snowe by 28 percent.
And yet, current conservative sentiment for Snowe isn't the sole reserve for conservatives anymore apparently. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, appearing on MSNBC on Election Day, recently threw the Maine Senator under the proverbial bus. "Well, I think Olympia Snowe is somebody who is more liberal than most Republicans would like," he said. Keep in mind that Pawlenty is supposed to be a centrist. But then he's also a sure bet to run for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, and today's Republicans don't like moderates and will no longer adhere to the Reagan admonition about not speaking ill of other Republicans.
So if that's what the moderates are saying, how much longer can Olympia Snowe play the lightning rod? Last Thursday anyway Senator Snowe was projecting a what-me-worry persona, poo-pooing any inquiries as to jumping parties. "I'm a Republican, and I intend to continue being a Republican," she said as she strolled down Front Street glad-handing constituents, extolling the virtues of private enterprise vs. Government involvement as it pertained to Healthcare Reform.
She is, of course, seen as the final impediment to a Public Option being a part of any Reform, or she was until Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman took the point. "I'm concerned about having the Government at the forefront of this and ultimately running our healthcare," she argued, and which is her party's generic talking point justifying their opposition. "Government could drive out the competition," which is closer to the truth, "because they have an inordinate advantage as a Government in terms of negotiating prices, without question, that ultimately could create more problems for the taxpayers." It wasn't clear what problems she was referring to.
Her argument led to the subject of Medicare, which she was quick to say she supports wholeheartedly, but "where we're under-reimbursing hospitals and doctors." That may be true, but then why does the American Medical Association and, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 73% of American doctors polled favor the Public Option? The Senator didn't say.
"The key is making the industry competitive and opening up the process for making sure that that happens and eliminating the barriers, preventing that from happening," she said while pushing her Trigger Option. "So that's what I think we can do to accomplish the same goal without having the Government in the business of administering and implanting another program where they don't have the incentive to meet a bottom line and to do it in a cost-effective way."
Chatting up one shop proprietor, she lamented the closing of the Naval Air Station as unbelievable and a terrible mistake. "We've been working with them," she said, referring to Bowdoin College who will be seeking to take over a the lion's share of NAS land once the Navy leaves. "[We] even passed a piece of legislation recently to have the local Redevelopment Authority to have access to this property, because then they wouldn't have to sell it at fair-market value, which I think is virtually impossible.
"I did that with Loring Air Force base back in 1991 as a pilot project. I was saying, 'Who's going to buy these mega-bases?' And certainly not in a down economy, so why not just pass it on to the local Redevelopment Authority so they have the ability to start to try to redevelop it — convert it as opposed to trying to subdivide it."
Before she was spirited away, she extolled the impact on Bath the Iron Works provided. The temptation for some might have been to credit its survival to its government contracts, but her time was up and soon she was on her way to Bangor.