In a surprising move, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, often considered the most moderate Republican senator, will retire rather than seeking reelection this year.
The move comes as a shock to Congress and the political world, but represents a pleasant surprise for President Obama and the Democrats, who are nearly guaranteed to pick up a Democratic Senate seat in 2012. As BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reports on Twitter:
Wow Olympia Snowe's retirement is a huge blow to the GOP. Makes the state look like a reliable pick up for the Democrats.— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) February 28, 2012
As a moderate Republican, Snowe may have been the Republican party's only chance to hold a seat in such a solidly blue state. Republicans did gain traction in 2010, when Republican Paul LePage was elected governor, but Democrats are favorites to steal this seat from Republicans. Her retirement represents a major setback for the GOP as they seek to regain control of the House.
Snowe made the decision to leave office "after an extraordinary amount of relection and consideration," she said in a statement. She turned 65 last week and was first elected to the U.S. House in 1978 and then to the Senate in 1994. She is the first woman to serve in both chambers.
Snowe cited the soaring level of partisanship in Washington as her primary reason for stepping down. "I have no doubt I would have won re-election," she said. "I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," she said.
"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."
Snowe's retirement overshadows Tuesday's showdown between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Arizona and Michigan, a sign that regardless of which candidate wins tonight, the GOP will have trouble controlling Congress in 2012. And, as we've seen since the 2010 midterm elections, it is virtually impossible to pass legislation in Washington with a divided Congress and president.
The White House issued a statement responding to Snowe's announcement, saying: "For almost three decades, Olympia Snowe has served the people of the great state of Maine. ... Senator Snowe’s career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people."
Snowe rose to national attention during the health care debate in 2009, when she sided with President Obama and helped to guarantee passage of health care reform.
Seeking the Democratic nomination are: State Rep. Joe Hinck, former Maine secretary of state Matthew Dunlap, state Senator Cynthia Dill, and home builder Benjamin Pollard.
Photo Credit: JRockefellerIV