The Corner

For Republicans, Problems in the Pine Tree State

Manu Raju has an interesting piece in Politico about the unpleasantness between Senator Olympia Snowe and Charlie Summers. He writes,

“When Maine Republican Charlie Summers took a swing through Washington last week to meet with party officials, there was one notable absence: Sen. Olympia Snowe, the most prominent Maine Republican of them all. It wasn’t a huge surprise that Snowe was nowhere to be seen. Snowe has been at odds with Summers since he refused to endorse the 33-year Capitol Hill veteran over a prospective tea party challenger when she was still considering running for reelection.”

Snowe said she doesn’t plan to contribute to Summers’s race, campaign for him, or help him with fundraising. A spokesman for Summers told Politico that he chose not to endorse her because he had just become Maine’s secretary of state and didn’t want to embroil himself in partisan politics — and that it had nothing to do with concerns about angering the Tea Party, who backed her primary challenger, Scott D’Amboise. Snowe’s hard feelings were due to a “miscommunication and misunderstanding,” and he “regrets” the difficulty.

Really? Sources who have held a number of positions in Maine politics told National Review that Summers’s refusal to endorse Snowe probably had less to do with bipartisanship than with his own political ambition — Summers has run for Congress three times and has always harbored dreams of national office. When Snowe asked for his endorsement against D’Amboise, the tea partier had the potential to be a competitive candidate. Plus, as Raju reports, the two go way back; he used to work for her, and they have known each other for more than 20 years. So it’s safe to assume that Summers’s snub was probably due to his own concerns about riling the increasingly influential Maine Tea Party, which could jeopardize his future bids for office.

That seems to have backfired. Summers’s opponent, Angus King, has a strong lead, with more than $500,000 on hand (compared to the Republican’s $119,000) and a 28-point lead in the polls, according to the Portland Press Herald. Sources agreed that the best strategy Summers could take would be to go negative. When he became governor, the state had a $3 million surplus. But he left it with a $1 billion shortfall. That could be a compelling campaign message for voters, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to communicate if Summers had the money, given Maine’s relatively cheap media market.

But his fundraising hasn’t gone too well, and Snowe isn’t just withholding her endorsement; she’s holding back her $2 million war chest, too, and says she plans to use it to support the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute and “to establish a ‘multi-candidate committee’ aimed at reducing political polarization in Congress,” per Politico. That won’t do much to mend the bridges she burned with the Maine Republican Party when she announced her decision not to pursue reelection just two weeks before the primary. But grudges are grudges, and in Maine, that means what should have been a safe Republican seat will probably go purple.

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