Charlie Summers has won the Republican nomination to succeed his former boss U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. But his unwillingness to back Snowe when she was running against a tea party challenger may cost him the retiring senator’s financial backing.
Snowe abruptly ended her campaign in February, citing partisan gridlock in the Senate. She did so with $2.36 million in campaign cash, which she later said would be used partially to back “like-minded” candidates.
Summers would seem a likely recipient. Snowe has a long history of supporting Maine Republicans who run for Congress, including Summers, who got $5,300 from her political action committee in 2008 during his bid for the First District congressional seat.
Snowe employed Summers as her state director for six years, and later helped him win the post as regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Association.
But now, Snowe isn’t making any firm financial commitment to her former staffer.
John Richter, Snowe’s chief of staff, said Thursday that she will support Summers as “the duly chosen Republican nominee.”
“She has a variety of options as to how to use her funds to help Republican candidates up and down the ticket, as she intends to do, although we haven’t made any decisions on how to specifically allocate those funds as of yet,” Richter said.
Snowe’s hedging stems from Summers’ decision last year not to endorse Snowe in her race against tea party-backed Scott D’Amboise.
Snowe had been targeted by the tea party, and as she ramped up her campaign against D’Amboise she approached Republican leaders in Maine for endorsements that could blunt a tea party surge against her.
Richter, in a written statement, confirmed that Snowe approached Summers. She got the backing of state Senate President Kevin Raye, a former staffer, and Gov. Paul LePage, who was elected with tea party support.
But Summers, who has long harbored aspirations for higher office, declined to join them.
“Kevin Raye endorsed Senator Snowe in her primary over Scott D’Amboise and was a member of her 2012 Leadership Team, whereas Charlie Summers wasn’t able to endorse her over Scott D’Amboise,” Richter wrote.
The statement makes public a long-rumored rift between Snowe and Summers.
It also illustrates how Snowe — often derided as a “RINO,” Republican In Name Only — came to be viewed as a political liability to some members of the Maine Republican Party.
Jen Webber, Summers’ campaign director, was asked Thursday morning if Summers had sought Snowe’s financial backing or spoken with her since his primary victory Tuesday.
Webber said Summers and Snowe “have not connected” and it was unclear if they would.
The Summers campaign was participating in a Republican unity event in North Yarmouth on Thursday evening, when Richter issued his statement.
Summers said in an email Thursday night, “I have not had a chance to connect with Senator Snowe as of yet, but I look forward to sitting down with her in the near future.”
Snowe’s financial backing and her husband, former Gov. John McKernan, could help Summers, who hopes to upset independent Angus King in November.
Summers’ primary campaign lagged in funding. The Scarborough resident loaned his campaign $50,000 to sustain a television ad buy in the days before the primary.
Summers has been publicly recognized by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a signal that outside money could be coming. But the level of that backing may depend on Summers’ ability to close what pundits believe is a wide gap against King.
Snowe has already made modest financial contributions to Republican candidates this year. Immediately after abandoning her re-election bid, she donated her mailing list to Maine Attorney General William Schneider to help him gather petition signatures to get on the primary ballot.
She did the same for Raye, who is running against Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2nd District.
Some of Snowe’s campaign team moved to Schneider’s campaign, which finished fifth in Tuesday’s six-way primary. Her former treasurer, Rick Bennett, launched his own candidacy for her seat and finished third.
Snowe and McKernan have traditionally backed GOP congressional candidates.
In 2006, McKernan’s Education Management Corp. PAC donated $2,100 to 2nd District candidate D’Amboise, Snowe’s eventual challenger. And Snowe deployed her state staff to help D’Amboise gather signatures to get on the 2006 primary ballot.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: