Earlier this week and to the surprise of pretty much everyone, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe announced that she would not be running for re-election this year. Snowe has served as Senator since 1994, when she became the first woman to have served in both houses of a State Senate as well as both houses of Congress. Her departure brings up some interesting points to ponder.
Snowe is a moderate Republican, and her career has been characterized by her willingness to reach across the political aisle to form compromises between moderates of all party affiliations. To wit: Snowe has consistently authored and co-sponsored legislation that would help American small businesses, veterans and their families, and farmers and fishermen. She has supported bills that promote policies on environmental conservation and has often broken with the Republican Party on women’s health issues.
A few concerns immediately bubbled in my mind when I heard the news of her retirement. First, does Snowe’s departure from politics foretell anything about political discourse in our near future? That is to say, how long will it be before we don’t have any moderates left in the legislature, either because they’ve lost their races or gotten fed up with the polarization and gridlock?
Although I’m not a Mainer, my thoughts also turned to who might replace Snowe. Almost immediately, a slew of people floated the possibility of running, only one of them a woman (Chellie Pingree, one of Maine’s two Representatives in the House). There are currently 76 women serving in the House and 17 in the Senate, which means that just little more than 17% of all the seats in Congress are held by women. Losing even one of those seats is significant.
One theory also posits that Snowe has her eyes set on the White House. This is not a totally preposterous thought. For the first time in a very long time, the Republican race remains contested well into primary season. If Santorum continues to do be competitive and Paul can keep scooping up at least a respectable portion of the vote in each state, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility that there could be a brokered convention. If no single candidate wins nomination on the first ballot – that is, if none of them can clear half of the total 2286 delegates on their own or with the endorsement/promise of another candidate’s supporters – the door is open for literally anyone to be nominated. (Delegates are only obligated to support the candidate they were sent there to vote for on the first ballot; if the convention attendees can’t come to a consensus on the first vote, they are then free to support whomever they choose on any subsequent ballots, even candidates who never appeared during the regular primary season.) And frankly, a moderate Republican with a remaining campaign war chest of upwards of $3 million has a better chance of beating moderate Democrat Barack Obama in a general election than any of the ultra conservative Republicans who have spent the past year and millions of dollars beating on each other.
It’s all very interesting food for thought.