AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. Olympia Snowe has rejected criticism that she is a RINO (Republican in name only) and has vowed to run an all-out campaign to win the GOP nomination and re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
“I don’t take anything for granted, never have and I never will,” she said in an interview. “I am going to campaign hard like I always do and I am already campaigning.”
Snowe said she is tired of those in the right wing of the GOP calling her a RINO. She said her credentials as a fiscal conservative were well established when she served in the House and continued after her first election to the Senate in 1994.
“I didn’t just start supporting the balanced budget amendment,” she said, “I have been a longtime supporter; I was a sponsor when I was in the House of Representatives.”
Snowe said vote after vote in both the House and Senate has proven her fiscal conservatism. She said too often, her willingness to work with Democrats to draft a compromise budget has been distorted as being soft on fiscal issues.
On Friday the Senate, on a party-line vote, blocked consideration of debt reduction legislation that included a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. She voted to allow the measure to be considered so there could be a vote on the amendment.
“The last time the Senate had this opportunity to debate and vote on a balanced budget amendment was March 4, 1997, when our debt was $5.36 trillion, and the amendment failed by just one vote,” Snowe said. “Since then, our nation’s debt has nearly tripled to $14.3 trillion.”
Snowe is very critical of out-of-state political groups that are seeking to influence her race. She expects they will spend large amounts of money opposing her election as well as supporting her opponents.
“I really don’t think a group based in California or wherever knows Maine and what people here are concerned about,” she said. “They have their own agenda and I don’t think it is what Maine wants.”
Snowe said she has raised over $2 million for her re-election campaign because of the expected spending by out-of-state groups. She said she has also been meeting with small groups of self-described tea party members to discuss her record and her principles.
“Many do not know my history,” she said, “I talk about what I have done and what I am trying to do to address this fiscal crisis we are in. I talk about how I get things done.”
Snowe has two announced primary opponents. Andrew Ian Dodge kicked of his campaign at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last February and is one of the leaders of the tea party movement in Maine.
Scott D’Amboise announced last year he was challenging Snowe. He was the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District in 2006 loosing to incumbent Democrat Mike Michaud 179,732 to 75,146 votes.
“Olympia Snowe has never lost an election and I don’t think she will this time,” said Bowdoin College government professor Chris Potholm, a longtime political analyst. He said while any candidate can be defeated by the right opponent, Snowe does not face such an opponent.
“She is a real warrior, she knows how to win and she knows how to run a campaign,” he said. “I have said from day one she will demolish a tea party candidate or anybody else that runs against her.”
Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said he has been hearing the complaint from some Republicans since he moved to the state that Snowe was not a real Republican. He said that group on the far right has more political muscle in the state this year, particularly in a primary, because of Gov. Paul LePage’s primary win last year.
“They may decide they can’t win a primary, so maybe one of them runs as a third party or an independent in the fall,” he said. “They could take some conservative votes from Snowe and give some hope to the Democrats talking about running.”
Brewer said blunting the strength of the tea party movement in the primary is LePage’s endorsement of Snowe. He said having LePage campaigning for Snowe will be a plus for her.
University of Maine at Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher agrees. He said LePage has a lot of clout with conservatives in the party and his strong support of Snowe will make it difficult for Dodge or D’Amboise get the traction they need.
“You never want to say never in politics,” Melcher said. “But I don’t see how they can have any chance of winning the primary with both in the race. And even if they unite behind a single challenger, it still will be a very difficult race to unseat her.”
All of the professors discount the ability of out-of-state groups to buy the election. They agree Snowe will have the ability to raise the money she needs to get her message to GOP voters and too much spending by outside groups could backfire and help her with voters.