No question about it. Maine strikes a deep chord in people, whether they are native Mainers or people who only wish they could call themselves Mainers.

Upon hearing about my new job as Washington bureau chief for MaineToday Media, one veteran D.C. journalist and native Mainer responded:

“Repeat after me: Bath Iron Works (not Ingalls); L.L. Bean (not Land’s End). Now, for the quiz: What is the only five-letter city in the U.S. with three ‘O’s in it?”

Well, that’s easy for a big college hockey fan like me: Orono, I thought.

I heard from Washingtonians who love summering in Maine on the coast or exploring its millions of acres of forests, and from those who just dream, more specifically, about dipping a Maine lobster in melted butter.

But Washington being Washington, I heard mostly from fellow journalists and from politicos based on their perceptions about what makes Maine special on the national political scene: two powerful moderate Republican senators whose votes are sought by both sides on major national issues, a tradition of political independence, and a population that loves its politics — left, right, centrist and otherwise.

It’s easy to see why Maine remains close to the hearts of natives, no matter where they live, and why it captures the imagination of outsiders and plays an outsized role in national politics.

Maine will continue to make plenty of national political news, to be sure.

Already, national political writers are speculating about whether the tea party movement will go after Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe when she is up for a fourth term in 2012.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has found his way into the national headlines on several occasions for his blunt talk about President Obama and the NAACP. That probably ensures a cluster of reporters around him during the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington later this month.

But it’s the nitty-gritty work of legislating, particularly in committees, that will more directly affect the lives of Mainers.

Snowe’s work on the Senate Finance Committee, for instance, will put her front and center on the issues of tackling the nation’s deficit and how to keep paying for entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Are earmarks really gone, or will they just be called something else? Collins will play a role in deciding how that goes.

Collins got a waiver from GOP Senate leaders to keep serving this session on the Senate Armed Services Committee in addition to Appropriations and another top committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. That puts Collins in a key spot, speaking of Bath Iron Works, as the Pentagon looks at cutting defense spending.

Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, Maine’s two U.S. House members, will be trying to navigate through their legislative agendas operating on the minority side of the aisle for the next two years. That’s not an easy proposition in a body where, unlike the Senate, a minority member has little ability to influence legislation once a bill reaches the floor — making their work on House committees all the more important.

Pingree is on the House Armed Services Committee and Agriculture Committee, which have tended over the years to be more bipartisan than other committees. That also generally holds true with the Transportation and Veterans Affairs committees, where Michaud serves, so there is the potential for minority members to get things done.

My goal is to keep Mainers well informed about what their representatives in Washington are up to, whether it’s operating in the national spotlight or laboring in an obscure subcommittee.

Please pass along comments and suggestions about how Washington is affecting your life in Maine to [email protected], or by calling the D.C. Bureau’s Maine number, 207-791-6280. Also, check out the bureau’s Twitter feed @MaineTodayDC.