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Thursday November 03, 2011 | 01:42 PM

Although her two Democratic opponents have barely begun to campaign, a polling firm said today that its survey of Maine voters shows GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to be “close to unbeatable” if she survives a GOP primary challenge.

Snowe is ahead of Democrat Matthew Dunlap 64-22 and leads Democrat Jon Hinck 65-17, according to the poll released today by Public Policy Polling.

Dunlap, a former Maine Secretary of State from Old Town, has formally declared his candidacy for the Democratic Senate nomination. Hinck, a state representative from Portland, has formed a Senate exploratory committee and appears poised to run.

Earlier this week, a PPP poll on the GOP primary found Snowe leading two Tea Party affiliated challengers by wide margins. The three-term Maine Republican had 62 percent of the GOP primary vote in the survey, compared to 10 percent for Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls and seven percent for Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell.

“If Olympia Snowe wins nomination for another term she’s close to unbeatable,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling, in a statement. “Democrats really just have to root for her to lose in the primary.”

The firm said it surveyed 673 Maine voters from Oct. 28-31 for the Snowe versus Democrats poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent. It surveyed 250 Maine GOP voters during that period for the primary poll, with a 6.2 percent margin of error. PPP said the Maine poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization and was conducted through automated telephone interviews. PPP calls itself a Democratic polling company, but notes that polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.

(Updated as of 7 p.m.: “There is a year until the 2012 election,” said Sean Flaherty of Hinck’s exploratory committee.  “Considering that Jon Hinck hasn’t officially announced he’s a candidate, we’re not concerned about polls.”)

Snowe, considered a GOP Senate moderate, won re-election in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote.

She is the favorite so far to win a fourth term, Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor of the nonpartisan Washington-based Cook Political Report, which currently lists the Snowe race as “likely Republican,” said earlier this week.

Dunlap and Hinck “have potential to be credible, but they have a lot to prove against Snowe in terms of fundraising, building name and defining a contrast with Snowe,” Duffy said. “I suspect that they hope that Snowe loses the Republican primary or emerges very damaged, thus creating an opening. Today that appears to be wishful thinking, but I am going to keep watching.”

PPP says that Snowe’s approval rating is down slightly from the firm’s last Maine survey in March. But Snowe “is still one of the most popular senators in the country,” PPP said, with 57 percent approving of her job performance and 36 percent registering disapproval. That was down from a 60-32 percent approval rating.

The firm said it also tested Snowe against Maine’s two Democratic House members, Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st Congressional District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd Congressional District. Even if one of them challenged Snowe, which neither is doing, Snowe leads in that theoretic match up by 17 percentage points over Pingree and 10 points over Michaud, according to PPP’s findings.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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