February 20, 2011

Snowe's re-election bid draws challengers aligned with tea party

A national group targets the veteran Republican for defeat, but political experts don't see her as vulnerable.

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - Jason Levesque caught flak from fellow Republican conservatives last fall when he accepted U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's offer to campaign with him during his unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

Scott D’Amboise

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Andrew Ian Dodge

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The famously moderate Snowe, it seems, didn't pass muster with many Maine conservatives, particularly those who consider themselves part of the tea party political uprising.

But Levesque, who acknowledges he doesn't agree with Snowe on every issue, said he didn't hesitate to ally himself with her during his campaign for Maine's 2nd District.

And he believes Snowe's standing among Maine's conservatives is improving as she gears up to run for a fourth Senate term in 2012.

"Everyone was saying (Snowe) was not conservative enough, a RINO (Republican in name only)," Levesque said. "But since November there has been a shift, almost like an awakening. Sen. Snowe has been very active post-election about reaching out and stating her case.

"The chatter is really diminishing against Sen. Snowe," said Levesque, of Auburn. "There is not this, 'We're up in arms, we've got to get rid of her' dynamic."

But some national pundits and media stories have thrown Snowe into the 2012 tea party conversation as an example of a veteran Republican who could fall victim to a conservative primary challenge -- or at least be so rocked that she might become general election prey for Democrats.

Some conservative Republicans weren't happy with Snowe's decision to help vote President Obama's health care bill out of the Senate Finance Committee -- even though Snowe voted against the final legislation and now advocates the law's repeal. They viewed Snowe's votes for the stimulus package and so-called bank bailout as two more strikes against her.

So far, two Maine conservatives, both claiming the tea party mantle, have declared they will challenge Snowe in next year's GOP primary.

Snowe won her last race in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote. She's never had a GOP primary challenger during her three U.S. Senate races or any of her U.S. House races.

One of her declared primary challengers this year is Scott D'Amboise, 47, of Lisbon Falls. D'Amboise, who ran against Michaud in 2006 and is a health care technician and owner of a commercial cleaning business, said he will campaign on a platform of values, morals and fiscal conservatism.

He said he can tap into the same conservative tea party movement that helped propel Gov. Paul LePage to victory.

"I hope people realize that it is time not to have career politicians, it is time to have people just like they are," D'Amboise said. "I am a conservative constitutionalist, and (Snowe) should be worried."

D'Amboise said he has met with many Maine tea party groups and backers and hopes to win the endorsement of the national Tea Party Express group, which this month announced it was including Snowe among the senators it hopes to defeat.

Snowe's other announced tea party-aligned challenger is Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, 43, a freelance writer and a former coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots in Maine. Dodge announced his candidacy in Washington at this month's Conservative Political Action Conference.

He says he is a hard-line fiscal conservative, but not "scary right" on social issues. That combination can appeal to Republican primary and general election voters in Maine, Dodge said.

But LePage already has announced he is backing Snowe.

Independent political analyst Jennifer Duffy of the Washington-based Cook Political Report said Snowe could be vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right, but doubts her current challengers pose much of a threat.

"If she got a first-tier challenger in there, she would have a real problem," said Duffy. "But the governor made that harder when he endorsed her. So I don't know if she will get that challenge."

(Continued on page 2)

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Sen. Olympia Snowe


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