WASHINGTON — Speaking as a potential Senate candidate who has formed an “exploratory committee,” Democrat Jon Hinck today criticized Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s vote against President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan as a “no” vote that is “bad for jobs, bad for Maine.”

Hinck, a state representative from Portland, is one of two Democrats who have been eyeing a run  against Snowe, and today’s blast at the Maine Republican also is a declaration that Hinck now is an all but official challenger.

Snowe and fellow Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins joined other Republicans in voting against a procedural motion on the bill, as did two Senate Democrats, resulting in a 51-48 vote that fell far short of the 60 needed to end debate and go to a final floor vote on the jobs package.

Snowe and Collins sounded a similar note in saying that they weren’t satisfied with a “take it or leave it” up or down vote on the bill, but both asserted that there are a number of job-creating elements that Obama and Democrats back that they, too, could support.

“Job creation is indisputably our nation’s number one priority, and there are elements of the president’s package that Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree upon,” Snowe said in a statement after the vote. “Unfortunately, yet again the Senate was faced with a take it or leave it package to which no amendments would be allowed on this bill with massive and wide-ranging implications.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant slammed the votes by both Snowe and Collins, saying the Maine Republicans “toed the party line in an effort to appeal to the radical tea party base and wealthy campaign contributors.”

But Hinck singled out Snowe – Collins is not up for reelection until 2014 – on a letterhead that carries a logo stating: “Making change happen for Maine Jon Hinck U.S. Senate Exploratory Committee.”

Forming an exploratory committee allows Hinck to begin raising money and contacting donors as a potential candidate until he crosses a $5,000 fundraising threshold, when he would have a brief window within which to file as a formal candidate.

Former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town also is considering running, setting up a potential Democratic primary next year. Snowe has two announced tea party movement-affiliated, GOP primary challengers, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, but is far outpacing both in terms of campaign cash.

The latest campaign finance report Snowe is filing later this week with the Federal Election Commission shows she had more than $3.2 million on hand as of Sept. 30, after raising more than $792,000 during the third quarter.

Hinck is “getting close” to announcing as a formal candidate against Snowe, but currently still is “exploring the race and that involves making sure we can raise the kind of money it will take to take on Sen. Snowe,” said Sean Flaherty, a Hinck exploratory committee aide. But Hinck “couldn’t sit back and ignore the opportunity to question Snowe’s vote on this last bill. This issue is too big to ignore.”

In his statement, Hinck endorses Obama’s jobs bill, which included an extension of the Social Security payroll tax reduction in place this year and several other tax breaks such as one aimed at getting businesses to hire workers, financed in large part with a tax surcharge on people with incomes of $1 million and above. Obama’s initial proposal included limiting tax deductions on households earning more than $250,000, which Senate Democrats replaced with the tax on millionaires.

The Obama jobs package also attempts to stimulate the economy by spending more money on infrastructure projects and on hiring more teachers and first responders.

“In Maine, 30,000 businesses would receive a payroll tax cut under the American Jobs Act, putting more money in the pockets of businesspeople and their employees,” said Hinck in his statement.  “Voting no on job creation is inexcusable, particularly when the plan is entirely paid for by a fair and modest increase in income tax on money earned above one million dollars a year.”

In her explanation for why she voted against the jobs bill, Snowe said that the proposed surcharge on millionaires would also hit many small business owners, adding there was no opportunity to try to alter the bill prior to a final vote.

“We should have had the opportunity to improve this bill that regrettably threatened to actually cost jobs, by raising taxes on small businesses,” Snowe said in her statement.

Snowe added that Obama and Senate Democrats were calling for a permanent tax increase to pay for temporary spending programs.

But Snowe said that the country requires an “economic game-changer to reverse the disturbing and lasting trends of high unemployment and weak growth that are plaguing the nation.”

She said that elements of the Obama package that can garner majority votes in Congress should be brought to the floor separately and as soon as possible. Senate Democratic leaders have indicated they will begin doing just that.

Snowe said she favors the extension of the payroll tax cut as well as overall tax reform. She also cited tax incentives for employers to hire military veterans and using existing highway trust funds to speed up road and bridge projects as “good proposals that will help foster job creation.”

Snowe also plugged proposals by her and other lawmakers, mostly Republicans but some Democrats also, to reduce or eliminate many federal regulations.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC.