Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, surprisingly announced Tuesday she won't seek a fourth term, citing the increasingly bitter and partisan nature of Capitol Hill.
Her sudden decision, just two weeks before Maine's candidate-filing deadline, deals a severe blow to the Republican push to take control of the Senate and gives Democrats an unanticipated shot at winning the seat.
The moderate Republican, in a statement released by her campaign, said she was confident she would have won re-election in November and that she and her husband, John McKernan Jr., are in good health.
But she added that she has grown frustrated that "an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions."
"With my Spartan ancestry, I am a fighter at heart, and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue," said Mrs. Snowe, the daughter of Greek immigrants. "However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be."
She said she doesn't expect the partisanship that has engulfed the Senate in recent years to subside any time soon.
"So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail," she said.
Maine is a moderate state politically — Democrats have carried it in five consecutive presidential elections but it has a tea party-backed governor and has been represented by two Republicans in the U.S. Senate since 1995. Besides Mrs. Snowe, Maine's other seat is held by Republican Susan M. Collins, who succeeded Republican William S. Cohen.
Mrs. Snowe's retirement turns what had been a likely Republican "hold" — before Mrs. Snowe's retirement, Real Clear Politics had rated the race as "leans Republican" — into possibly the Democrats' best chance for a "pickup" in the country. Republicans would need to gain four net seats to retake the Senate.
"This is a total game changer. It elevates this race to a top-tier race in the nation," said Ben Grant, the state Democratic Party chairman. "Obviously, this is going to cause a great deal of turmoil in the Maine political scene."
Scott D'Amboise is the lone Republican candidate in the race after tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge recently dropped out. Mr. D'Amboise had $134,369 in available cash as of Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission records, compared with almost $3.4 million for Mrs. Snowe.
"I respect Senator Snowe's decision, and look forward to facing the Democratic nominee in the fall," Mr. D'Amboise said in a prepared statement. "With Maine's complicated signature process, it is doubtful that any other Republican could collect the requisite number of signatures to appear on the ballot before the March 15 deadline."
On the Democratic side, former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Gordon Dunlap had less than $39,000 in available cash as of Dec. 31, but that was more than any other Democratic candidate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called Mrs. Snowe "a tireless advocate for the people of Maine, our nation's military, and small businesses across the country."
Mrs. Snowe, 65, occasionally crossed party lines to vote with Democrats. She is the senior Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. She previously served in the House and both houses of Maine's legislature.
"As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us," Mrs. Snowe said. "It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate."
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at email@example.com.
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