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Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, surprised most political observers when she announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election this year.
According to USA Today, she said “she could not face another unproductive six-year term with the polarization and partisanship that has overtaken Washington – and the Senate in particular.”
The Tea Party wing of Republicans is trying to purge the GOP of moderates such as Snowe, but Snowe’s retirement announcement should be a wakeup call that their strategy is likely to backfire.
Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah are facing strong Tea Party challenges in primaries because right-wing Republicans don’t view them as conservative enough, though when it comes to his voting record on judicial appointments and other key Tea Party barometers, few are more conservative than Hatch.
But whether Lugar or Hatch win re-nomination, their seats in Republican states are likely to remain in Republican hands.
However there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Maine, a state which Democrat Barack Obama carried by 17 percentage points in the 2008 presidential election. So Democrats now correctly think they have an excellent chance to gain a Senate seat in Maine.
Several moderate senators from both parties who have announced their retirement probably did so because they realized the odds were against their winning re-election. That’s apparently not the case with Snowe, who said in a statement Tuesday, “I have no doubt I would have won re-election.” It’s hard to argue with that, considering she won her last election in 2006 with 74 percent of the votes.
So now those who want the Republican party to become more conservative and ideologically pure need to ask themselves if they would rather have a moderate such as Snowe representing the party in the Senate or they would rather give up her seat to a Democrat, which could cost the Republicans any chance of gaining control of the Senate.
Considering the current political climate, it’s hard to blame Snowe for her decision.
Many say that the gridlock and partisanship in Congress is worse than ever, but it was probably even worse in the second quarter of the 19th century, when, as historian Bruce Catton wrote, members of opposite parties had quit listening to each other.
The name-calling and insults between parties now is mild compared to then. Several congressmen even challenged colleagues to duels then. Many were just for show, with both participants deliberately missing, but Congressman Jordan Graves of Henry County, Ky., killed Congressman Jonathan Cilley of Maine in a duel Feb. 24, 1838.
Thank goodness today’s members of Congress haven’t sunk to that level. And they should recall that the constant bickering and refusal to compromise in that era eventually led to the Civil War.
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