There’s been a lot of talk lately about potential re-election troubles for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

There’s been speculation about whether the Maine Republican’s bid for a fourth term in 2012 might be waylaid by a tea party challenge from her right — or whether a primary-weakened Snowe would be vulnerable in the general election.

Then there are the Democrats who are hoping that Snowe doesn’t survive next spring’s primary, that the fall could bring a Republican nominee like Christine O’Donnell, the tea party Senate candidate from Delaware, who would be easy pickings in the general election.

There have even been some whispers that Snowe, who’s 64, might just say, “The heck with it,” and retire ahead of a thorny primary. After all, she’s never had to deal with a primary challenge during her three previous Senate races or during her time in the U.S. House, where she served from 1979 to 1994.

Here’s the thing about political speculation. It eventually has to be confirmed by reality.

And the reality thus far doesn’t seem to be confirming talk of big trouble for Snowe, who won in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote.

For those hoping for Snowe’s demise, the news last week that her campaign raised $877,019 during the first three months of the year and had more than $2 million on hand as of March 31 surely was a bracing bit of reality.

That’s a big number for a Maine campaign, one that would seem to squelch any idea that Snowe is considering retirement.

From the perspective of Senate race analyst Jennifer Duffy, talk of a tough primary challenge to Snowe is so far, well, just talk.

Duffy, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, is not impressed with the two announced GOP primary challengers — Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, a former coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots in Maine; and Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, who ran against Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in 2006, and is a health care technician and owner of a commercial cleaning business.

“The more likely it looks that (Snowe) wins the primary, the more likely it is that Democrats rethink” whether Snowe is vulnerable, Duffy said last week.

Ben Grant, Maine Democratic Party chairman, says there will be a strong challenger from his party ready to take on Snowe in the 2012 general election, but he won’t name names.

So far, only Rosa Scarcelli, a business owner who stirred some excitement when she ran in last year’s gubernatorial primary, will even admit to eyeing the race.

But Scarcelli, who could still face questions about husband Thom Rhoads’ involvement in the infamous Cutler Files website, says she has time to make a decision and no time frame for when she will make it. She says she will be watching how Snowe votes this year and whether the Maine Republican remains the type of pragmatic leader who is willing to reach a compromise and solve problems with the other side of the aisle.

Snowe is navigating a legislative path this year that includes a conservative move against what she sees as burdensome federal regulations on small businesses but also a refusal to back a conservative attempt to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

A longtime Democratic operative familiar with Maine politics says he doesn’t see Snowe as vulnerable.

“People are toying with a run against Snowe but they aren’t serious right now,” he said. “This money thing made it harder it will scare people away. $2 million is a big war chest.”

Another Democrat said to be looking at running against Snowe, possibly to lay groundwork for a 2014 gubernatorial race, is Donato Tramuto, a successful businessman and chairman of the Ogunquit Select Board. Tramuto did not return phone calls last week.

State Rep. Emily Cain, the House Minority Leader, has also been mentioned as a potential U.S. Senate candidate.

Cain, 30, said in an interview last week that she would like to run for the U.S. Senate — but it won’t be next year.

“I am excited about the idea of running for the U.S. Senate someday, but it is not in my plan right now for 2012,” Cain said.

Cain says she has a “hard time seeing Republicans in Maine abandoning” Snowe, and that it will be tough for any Democrat to beat her in the general election if Snowe stays “comparatively moderate to the extremes we are seeing in Washington right now.”

Said Cain: “No matter who is up against her in November (2012), it will be a tough race, but it will be an opportunity to push back and say, ‘Are you still the true moderate you have said you are in the past?’“ 

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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