Olympia Snowe Removal And The Decline Of The Senate Moderates

Reply Mon 5 Mar, 2012 01:50 pm
Snowe Removal And The Decline Of The Senate Moderates
March 5, 2012
by Ken Rudin - NPR

If you are a partisan Democrat, the announcement last week by Sen. Snowe (R-Maine) that she would not seek a fourth term is great news. Her departure moves the seat from Safe Republican to Likely Democratic, and it hurts GOP efforts to win a Senate majority in November. Nobody was going to beat Snowe this year, not in the primary (though she did have conservative opposition) nor in the general election. In 2006, an awful year for Republicans nationwide, Snowe won re-election with 74 percent of the vote. Her brand of moderate Republicanism plays well in this independent state.

If you are a Tea Party Republican, her announcement is also great news. Snowe, like her fellow Maine senator, Susan Collins, votes with Democrats and President Obama more often than any other Senate Republican. Snowe is not a liberal in the true sense of the word. She often threatens to bolt her party on key legislation but many times doesn't follow through. But, as conservatives will remind you, she supports abortion rights, voted to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, backed Obama's economic stimulus package, and as recently as 2008 had a 100 percent voting record with the AFL-CIO.

But if you buy the argument is that Washington is not working because Democrats and Republicans refuse to talk to each other, or because compromise has become a dirty word, then the news about Snowe is disheartening. Democrats will pick up a seat, and Republicans will be purer, but neither side will have learned the lesson.

This aversion to cooperation is not just a Republican problem. Years of preaching bipartisanship backfired on Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in 2010, when the left wing of her party put up a strong opponent in the primary and nearly beat her. Without a united party behind her, Lincoln got clobbered in her bid for a third term that fall. And when Democratic centrists Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) — Lieberman officially an independent — announced they wouldn't seek another term this year, there was no shortage of cheering from many in their party.

On the Republican right, there are those who argue that the go-along-to-get-along philosophy that some say defined the House GOP for decades got them nowhere, that it took Newt Gingrich in 1994 to wake them out of their 40-year funk. And it wasn't moderates that brought them back to control of the House in 2010, they'll remind us, it was the Tea Party and other conservatives.

And on the Democratic left, there are those who blame members of their own party for giving President Bush the imprimatur to go to war in Iraq or cut taxes.

The fact is, the combination of Tea Party victories in 2010, in the general election but especially in the primaries — think Christine O'Donnell over Mike Castle in Delaware — and the near decimation of the Blue Dog Democrats that fall have made the parties more ideologically pure than ever.

And that's either good or bad, depending on your point of view.

According to Snowe, that's not good. In a Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post, she wrote:

The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body's failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. We witnessed this again in December with votes on two separate proposals for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. ...

One difficulty in making the Senate work the way it was intended is that America's electorate is increasingly divided into red and blue states, with lawmakers representing just one color or the other. Before the 1994 election, 34 senators came from states that voted for a presidential nominee of the opposing party. That number has dropped to just 25 senators in 2012. The result is that there is no practical incentive for 75 percent of the senators to work across party lines.

The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground if their initial party positions fail to garner sufficient support. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.

For change to occur, our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.

The reaction in the mainstream media was predictable — but worth reading. The New York Times' Frank Bruni explained his "crush" on Snowe this way:

We liked her best for her disobedience. Unlike the majority of her colleagues in the Senate, be they Democrats or, like her, Republicans, she dared to disagree with her party. Often. And she did it publicly, with her votes and her forthright explanations of them. ...

Just because you identified yourself principally with one side in the ceaseless fight, wearing an R or a D, it didn't mean you signed on automatically to everything it championed, to each plank in its sprawling (and often suffocating) platform. ...

Just because you choose a team shouldn't mean you're suddenly and miraculously on board with everything in its playbook, on down the line: the abortion position, the contraception position, the tax policy, the immigration policy, the attitude toward same-sex marriage, the attitude toward gun control.

But that's what's expected. That's the message gleaned from the relative homogeneity of a party's leading candidates, who squeeze themselves into tidy, unyielding boxes and insist that we do likewise. Rare is the Democrat of plausible national ambition who tangles in a tough, meaningful way with labor unions or environmentalists, groups that President Obama has been loath to cross. Disappointing them jeopardizes the campaign infantry and financial contributions they provide, and as the sway of interest groups rises, the fealty of politicians to the ones in their corner grows with it.

Rare is the Republican of plausible national ambition who doesn't kowtow to religious conservatives, a spectacle on florid display during the Republican primaries, including last week, when Mitt Romney signaled support for the Blunt amendment just before Senate Democrats — with an assist from Snowe — defeated it. He may not quite be lighting his hair on fire, to cite his own boast of faux defiance, but there's ample smoke rising from his fabled mane, as he burns away the Northeastern moderate he was. In fact he used to be Snowe — minus the obvious differences in gender, religion, wealth and pet care. But that was before he reached higher. Before he had much of the independence and many of the idiosyncrasies bled out of him. Before the Republican margin gobbled up the middle and ate a good chunk of Mitt along with it.

And in looking at Redstate.com for reaction to Snowe's retirement, I found this blog post by "davenj1":

While many in the conservative community may be celebrating to chants of "good riddance" and "goodbye RINO," he[r] departure puts a serious dent in the ability of the GOP to win the Senate in 2012. Considering the fact that there is nobody waiting in the wings in Maine for the GOP with a filing deadline looming, the timing could not have been worse. Thus far, only a Tea Party activist named D'Amboise is running. He is the Maine equivalent of Christine O'Donnell, only without the witchcraft and masturbation side stories. Should either of the incumbent House members- Penigree or Michaud- decide on a Senate run (both are seriously considering that option now), it is all over in Maine. And the fact is that a Democrat would replace either one of them in the vacated House seat.

But there was also this post, on the Conservatives for America blog, from "Sister Toldjah," that expressed a more common reaction from the right:

I didn't think we had a chance in you-know-where that we'd pick up the Senate this year, and Snowe's retirement makes the likelihood of that happening even more remote. And while on one hand it's good to have around even a moderate Republican like Snowe for most procedural votes, it's important to remember that even the procedural vote pluses are canceled out when colossal errors in judgement – like her decision to vote ObamaCare out of committee, which set it up for eventual passage – become all too common.

And conservative commentator Michelle Malkin added this succinct thought on her blog:

Olympia Snowe is not and has never been a "pure" Republican. But she was a Republican. I suspect that there have been votes she made against the majority of her party that pained her, just as I suspect there have been votes made with the majority of her party that pained her as well. I suspect that even as she may have moved to the right in recent years, at least since Obama has been in the White House, it has never been enough for some in the party. And I suspect she grew tired of it all.
Some of the moderate/liberal Republicans in the Senate as of 1978. It's hard to imagine any of them in the Senate of 2012.

Some of the moderate/liberal Republicans in the Senate as of 1978. It's hard to imagine any of them in the Senate of 2012.

The campaign. Snowe's decision, which came two weeks ahead of the March 15 filing deadline, threw both parties for a loop. But the Democratic bench in Maine seems to be stronger, and they go into the race as the favorite.
She ran and lost in 2002, and is all but certain to try again this year.
Ken Rudin collection

She ran and lost in 2002, and is all but certain to try again this year.

While a few candidates were already running, Snowe's withdrawal immediately energized supporters of the state's two members of the House, both Democrats: Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree. Ultimately Michaud, who comes from the more rural part of the state, decided to stay in the House. Pingree, who is considered more liberal, is all but a certain Senate candidate. She ran once before; as the Democratic nominee in 2002, she lost by 17 points to Collins. Former Gov. John Baldacci has also expressed interest in running.

On the Republican side, businessman Scott D'Amboise, with Tea Party backing, had already been running. State Senate President Kevin Raye, a former chief of staff to Snowe, talked about getting in the race but decided against it. (He will instead take on Michaud in the 2nd CD, a rematch of their close 2002 race.) Those who look ready to run include Secretary of State Charlie Summers, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, ex-state Senate President Rick Bennett, state Sen. Debra Plowman and state Attorney General William Schneider.

And let's not forget about potential independent candidates. Maine, more than most states, seems to look favorably at independent and third-party candidates. Maine was Ross Perot's best state in the two times he ran. In 1992, with a shade over 30 percent of the vote, he even finished second, some 300 votes ahead of President George H.W. Bush. The state also elected two independent governors in recent years, Jim Longley in 1974 and Angus King for two terms beginning in 1994. King, in fact, is also talking about running, as is Eliot Cutler, the independent who narrowly lost to Paul LePage in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Independents have until June 1 to file their candidacies, but a decision by King and/or Cutler is expected soon. King was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as saying, "To be honest, I am trying to figure out whether I can make a difference down there. If I can, then it is worth it ... But I don't need to be a senator. Is it possible to make a difference or is it hopeless down there?"

Ohio Silver! Along with the hotly contested Republican presidential primary on Tuesday (March 6) — said to be a "must win" for Rick Santorum — Ohio becomes the first state in the 2012 cycle to hold congressional primaries as well. State Treasurer Josh Mandel is favored to win the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). Mandel, who is 34 years old, has raised nearly $6 million and garnered strong conservative support in his uphill battle against Brown, who is seeking a second term.

House primaries to watch:

3rd CD: This is a new seat, encompassing most of Columbus and likely to elect a Democrat in November, even though it's a product of GOP mapmakers. It was designed to put as many Democrats together in one district in order to protect three nearby Republicans. Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who served in Congress for one term before being crushed by Steve Stivers (R-15th) in 2010, is seeking redemption in this new district. But she faces tough opposition from former state House Democratic leader Joyce Beatty, an African American who has the endorsement of Columbus Mayor Coleman; and state Rep. Ted Celeste, the brother of ex-Gov. Richard Celeste who was clobbered by Sen. Mike DeWine (R) in 2000.

9th CD: The Democratic primary pits two veteran incumbents: Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. Former allies, they are now trashing each other in debates and in campaign ads. Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland who has been in the House since 1997, is well known for his two bids for president and fervent anti-war reputation. But he is thought to be at a disadvantage in his race with Kaptur, first elected in 1982 from Toledo and the senior woman in the House. He has the more familiar name but the new combined district is more familiar to her, and she has a huge lead in fundraising. And while Kaptur is used to winning big — she was down to 59 percent in 2010 but surpassed 70 percent in 11 of her previous 12 campaigns — Kucinich has struggled recently, accused of focusing more on national issues than concerns at home. In 2010 he won an eighth term with just 53 percent.

10th CD: Actually, there is no primary here worth watching, but there could have been. Rep. Steve Austria (R), whose district got dismantled and was thrown in the same CD as fellow Republican incumbent Mike Turner. Rather than run against Turner in the primary, Austria decided to retire.

History of Super Tuesday. As we await the results of presidential contests in ten states on March 6 (see calendar at end of column for list of states), it might be worth taking a look at how "Super Tuesday" came to be. The name first appeared in 1984, in a series of primaries on the same day in March mostly in the South. But after Walter Mondale's blow-out defeat that fall, Southern Democrats decided that if they were ever going to retake the White House, their nominee needed to run strongly in the South. So the "real" Super Tuesday was created, with many primaries held on the same day in Southern states in 1988, designed to give the party a less liberal focus.
Many Southern Democrats who helped create Super Tuesday wanted Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn to run for president, but he refused.

Many Southern Democrats who helped create Super Tuesday wanted Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn to run for president, but he refused.

But which Democrat got the most votes on Super Tuesday that year? Jesse Jackson. Which Dem got the most delegates? Michael Dukakis (three more than Jackson). Not exactly what they planned. Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, the supposed beneficiary of a strategy based mostly in the South, didn't do poorly — he finished a respectable third in both votes and delegates that day — but he finished third. And he was out of the race not long afterwards.

And while Democrats created Super Tuesday with the idea of helping their party, it really played a major role in determining the GOP nominee that year; Vice President George Bush won 16 primaries on that day. Within two days of Super Tuesday, Jack Kemp (R) and Gary Hart (D) threw in the towel.

Since then, it has aided the party frontrunners and helped end the candidacies of others.

1992: President Bush (R) and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (D) are the big winners. Bush sweeps every primary, defeating commentator Pat Buchanan (and David Duke) and ending any question that he would be renominated. On the Democratic side, Clinton also cleans up in the South, with former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts limited to primary wins in his home state and Rhode Island.

1996: Bob Dole (R), his nomination thought to be in jeopardy after a weak win in Iowa and a loss in New Hampshire, sweeps the South. Steve Forbes, who spent some $30 million of his own money, drops out of the race two days later.

2000: Al Gore (D) and George W. Bush (R) clean up. Two days later, Bill Bradley (D) and John McCain (R) are out of the race.

2004: John Kerry (D) wins nine of the day's 10 contests; his only loss comes in Vermont, where favorite son Howard Dean, who dropped out two weeks prior, won. John Edwards (D) ends his candidacy the next day.

2008: On the Republican side, John McCain wins nine of the 21 states, including California, New York and Illinois. Mike Huckabee sweeps the South. Mitt Romney (R) drops out two days later. For the Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton essentially battle to a draw. He wins 13 states to her nine, but she wins big in delegate-rich California and New York. For the first time in 20 years, Super Tuesday fails to decide the Democratic contest.

The 2012 story so far:

Mitt Romney (7 states won): New Hampshire (1/10), Florida (1/31), Nevada (2/4), Maine (2/11), Arizona (2/28), Michigan (2/28), Washington (3/3) = 203 delegates.

Rick Santorum (3): Iowa (1/3), Minnesota (2/7), Colorado (2/7) = 92 delegates.

Newt Gingrich (1): South Carolina (1/31) = 33 delegates.

Ron Paul (0) = 25 delegates.

Delegate total as of March 4 according to Associated Press. A total of 1,144 delegates are needed to win the nomination.

Sun Valley visit. A wonderful time was had by all (or maybe just me?) for a couple of days last week in Sun Valley, Idaho, in a series of events designed to spread the NPR gospel and talk about the StateImpact project I am involved with. It's a project involving NPR and member stations in eight states — including Idaho — designed to focus on how the actions of state government affect people and their communities. A big thanks to the NPR development team and Boise State Public Radio general manager John Hess for making the trip a huge success.

Meanwhile, one of my trivia questions of the week — who was the last Idahoan elected governor and senator? — was correctly answered by Bob Kustra, who happens to be the president of Boise State University. Kustra is a former state legislator and lt. gov. of Illinois, which is as good a reason as any to display this button from one of his old campaigns. (Trivia answer: Dirk Kempthorne.)

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Time for one quick question regarding the situation in Maine that was posted on my Facebook page:

Q: Can Sen. Susan Collins resign and run for the seat of Olympia Snowe while the Republican governor fills the Collins vacancy? — Diganta Das, Boyds, Md.

A: Theoretically, yes, and it's a fun scenario, but it's not going to happen. The closest instance to that I can think of came in North Dakota in 1992. Kent Conrad, a one-term Democrat, promised that he would not seek re-election unless the federal budget deficit was dramatically reduced. It wasn't — in fact, it increased — and so Conrad kept his promise, announcing in April of that year he would retire. Rep. Byron Dorgan became the Democratic nominee for the seat.

However, the state's senior senator, Quentin Burdick (D), died on Sept. 8. Democrats immediately pressured Conrad to run for Burdick's seat, and he agreed to do so. He said he kept his word but that Burdick's death was a "new situation." Both he and Dorgan were elected that fall.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week's show, with guest host John Donvan, focused on Romney's victories in Michigan and Arizona, the retirement of Sen. Snowe, and a look back at the 20 GOP presidential debates.

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