The Tea Party Stampede: Is Olympia Snowe Next?

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Today’s New York Times considers other Senate moderates who might be endangered by the rolling Tea Party wave. An obvious candidate is Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, a frequent party line-crosser–she voted for Obamacare in the Senate Finance Committee (though not the final version)–who represents much of what the new GOP rebels hate. Snowe isn’t up for re-election until 2012, but she must already be thinking about how to respond to their growing animus. Here’s what she had to say to CNN’s Dana Bash after Christine O’Donnell’s win last week:

And what does Castle’s loss tell Snowe about whether there’s a place for moderates like her in the GOP?

“Well there are fewer of us so that goes without saying,” Snowe said, but then immediately argued that “we can’t be endangered if you want to be a majority party.”

“It doesn’t stand to reason that the Republican Party would want to exclude moderate Republicans if they want to be a majority party. Those are mutually exclusive propositions,” Snowe said.

At times, as the Maine Republican talked about this issue, she became exasperated.

“Ideological purity at 100 percent is a utopian world and I don’t know who lives in utopia. I’ve never lived in utopia,” said Snowe.

Snowe’s big and vexing problem is that, while she is one of the nation’s most popular Senators at home, thanks to support from Democrats and independents, she is deeply unpopular with the Republicans who will decide their party’s 2012 nomination.  And she already has a tough-talking conservative threatening to challenge her.

Snowe has three obvious options available to her–none terribly appealing. She can lurch right in the coming months to head off a right-wing challenge; but she’ll risk looking like an opportunistic phony. She can move even farther left, perhaps declare herself a Democrat or independent; but that didn’t work out so well for Arlen Specter this year. Or Snowe could leave politics altogether; but there’s not much sign she wants to do that. As she told Dana Bash, “I’ve been fighting my whole life.” Thanks to the revolution underway within her party, she’ll have plenty of fighting to do in the months ahead.