PORTLAND, Maine — In her first speech in Maine since announcing she was dropping her bid for a fourth Senate term, Olympia Snowe provided few details about her future plans, stating only that she does not plan to run again for elected office and that no organizations have approached her about joining their ranks.
During a packed press conference at the Embassy Suites hotel near the Portland International Jetport, Snowe, surrounded by family and cracking jokes, repeatedly hit on the theme of bipartisan dysfunction in Washington and said she hopes to build popular support for a centrist approach from outside the Senate.
While Snowe was clear Friday about what she feels is wrong with politics today, she remained noncommittal about every possible trajectory moving forward. She said she even remains unsure about whether she will endorse one of the candidates vying to replace her.
Snowe’s decision not to seek re-election triggered a free-for-all among high-profile politicians in Maine, with rumors running rampant about who might throw their hat into the race.
As of midday Friday, 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and former congressman and two-term Gov. John Baldacci were the prominent names in the mix for the Democratic nomination, while Secretary of State Charlie Summers was the first establishment GOP candidate to announce he was seeking the Senate seat. Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett followed close behind.
Former two-term independent Gov. Angus King and former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler have both stated an interest in the race as well.
Several prominent Republicans, including Maine Attorney General William Schneider, Maine Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney of Springvale and former House Minority Leader Josh Tardy of Newport, attended the press conference, fueling whispers that one of them may seek the seat.
Maine Senate President Kevin Raye also was on hand Friday morning, although he announced that he is recommitting himself to a run for the 2nd District House seat now held by Democrat Mike Michaud.
“Hopefully, I’ll be in a position to help a Republican nominee,” Snowe told a cluster of reporters at the end of her nearly 40-minute press conference. She said she does believe there are candidates in the Senate mix who can carry on her tradition of moderate conservatism, but she declined to name anybody and was unapologetic about dropping out of the race less than three weeks before the state deadline to submit the 2,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the primary ballot.
The three-term senator said her decision to drop out of the race aims to “send a message” that she hopes candidates clamoring for her seat take to heart.
“At some point, you have to bridge that divide” between Democrats and Republicans, she said. “That’s not what’s happening.”
Candidates who wish to follow in her steps “have to take that message and make the change if they’re elected,” Snowe said.
Snowe refused to say whether she believes the current crowd of GOP presidential hopefuls includes anyone who could build consensus among the parties in Washington, but said she has no plans to join that crowd or seek any other elected office, dousing rumors of a primary challenge for the Blaine House in 2014.
She said no organizations have approached her with job offers since dropping out of the race. She also indicated she has no cabinet position on the table.
Accompanied by her husband, former Republican Gov. John McKernan, and a stage full of family members Friday, Snowe was effusive in giving thanks to her supporters, family, friends, colleagues and staff.
Snowe has repeatedly referenced the dysfunctional environment in Washington when talking about her decision to leave the Senate after three terms. She repeated those refrains Friday, saying that the two major political parties have an obligation to find compromises on issues to avoid the Senate turning into a “winner-take-all” parliamentary system.
Snowe stopped short of calling for a third-party solution or systemic reform — as promoted by the nascent Americans Elect organization spearheaded Cutler — saying the two-party system is “fundamental” and can still be used to exact change.
“What I like to call the sensible center has all but disappeared from the Senate,” she told attendees.