PORTLAND — Outgoing Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe isn’t running for another term, but her imprint will still be seen in this year’s general election campaign in two GOP congressional candidates.
Charlie Summers, who won Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary, was Snowe’s state director from 1995 to 2004. Kevin Raye, who won the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in November, worked for her for more than 17 years as a top aide.
Snowe’s stamp is undoubtedly on both candidates, said Mary Cathcart, a senior policy associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Center at the University of Maine.
“I think both Kevin Raye and Charlie Summers are moderate Republican candidates and they beat out the farther-right candidates,” said Cathcart, a former state senator. “They are more in the mold of Olympia Snowe and I feel sure she will campaign for them this fall, which will help a lot.”
Snowe announced in February that she would not seek a fourth Senate term, citing frustration over partisan politics in the Senate and lamenting the disappearance of the “sensible center.” With the national GOP led by Southern and Western conservatives, Snowe is considered one of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate.
Raye first came to know Snowe when he was 16 and wrote her a letter after reading a newspaper article about her run for Congress in 1978. She was a state senator at the time.
Snowe wrote back with a four-page handwritten letter and later visited him while in eastern Maine, where Raye lived. At 17, he worked as Snowe’s volunteer county chairman — “I wasn’t old enough to vote, but I was old enough to put signs” — and later worked as a regional campaign director while attending Bates College.
After graduating college, Raye went to work for Snowe full-time in 1983, based in her Bangor office until 1994. After she got elected to the Senate in 1994, Raye became chief of staff of her Senate office in Washington, where he stayed until 2001.
A framed poster from Snowe’s 1978 congressional campaign now hangs in Raye’s office in Augusta, where he is Senate president. Like Snowe, he believes in open communication and working to find common ground.
“I’ve often told people my approach in the Maine Legislature in working across the aisle and being a problem solver rather than a bomb thrower goes back to my time with Olympia,” Raye said.
Summers worked as Snowe’s state director from 1995 to 2004, though he didn’t endorse Snowe when she was challenged by tea party candidate Scott D’Amboise before she left the Senate race. Summers is now running against Democrat Cynthia Dill, independent Angus King and three other independents in November’s Senate race.
Summers was always impressed by Snowe’s ability to not forget where she came from, her willingness to keep an open mind, and her knack for establishing relationships with Democrats and Republicans who were far apart in their thinking.
“You don’t spend nine years with someone and not learn in the process,” he said.
The candidates’ longtime association with Snowe could help them in fundraising and getting volunteers for their campaigns, said Douglas Hodgkin, a former political science professor at Bates. Hodgkin had Raye as a student and recalled that Raye’s college thesis was a comparison of Snowe’s and Smith’s political campaigns.
But their association could also cut the other way, and be a disadvantage in attracting the conservative vote, Hodgkin said. Some conservatives have criticized Snowe for her moderate views in Washington, deriding her as being a “RINO” — a Republican in Name Only.
In Summers’ case, his decision not to endorse Snowe early in the campaign now leaves in question whether his campaign will receive any of the $2.36 million campaign cash she had amassed before dropping out.
Snowe was not available for comment, but her chief of staff, John Richter, said Snowe is pleased to see Summers and Raye continue to pursue public service in elective office. She’ll be campaigning for them and other Republican candidates.
Raye and Summers said no matter their association with Snowe, they’ll have to earn votes on their own.
“I fully recognize people will judge me for myself, on my record, on my statements and me as an individual and a legislator,” Raye said.