This has as much to do with the kind of state Maine is as it does with who these two women are politically. Follow me below for a quick run-down on the Great State of Maine.
One of the things I love about New England is how diverse in character each of the states are from one another. I've had a home in all but Rhode Island and Vermont, but I've spent a fair amount of time in those two places, too, and have family in the Green Mountains. Maine's character has a lot to do with Snowe and Collins, and their success as Republicans in a state where the majority of state and federal politicians are Democrats.
Dems outnumber the GoP in the state House by 3-2. Dems outnumber the GoP in the state Senate by a narrower margin of 19 to 16. Our Democratic Governor is John Baldacci, who beat challenger Chandler Woodcock of the GoP rather handily, 38% to 30%. Importantly, Independent candidate Barbara Merrill garnered 21% of the vote. There were significant gains by Dems in the State House this year. Interestingly, my district in Portland exchanged its Green Representative, John Eder, for the Dem candidate Hinck. It seems the "wave," if wave it was, swept every stripe. Of course, it may also have to do with the fact that Eder didn't campaign much (new house, new job, less time to campaign).
After you've taken a look, let this major point sink in: The second congressional district is more similar to the rust belt or perhaps to West Virginia coal country in political temperament than to the rest of New England.
OK, that's an overly broad statement that isn't 100% true. First of all, it is a little more socially liberal. But only a little. There's more dairy up there than in the rust belt. A little bit like Upstate NY. Some pretty extensive ag-business in the shape of potatoes, even some poultry. But the dominant business of Maine 2nd district were textiles and paper. Both of these industries are leaving the northeast, and fast. In fact, the first thing the Governor had to deal with when he took office was the threat of a major paper mill closing. Had that gone through, it's entirely conceivable that a whole community would have disappeard. Anyone from Millinocket can tell you what atrophy looks like. Anyone from L-A (that's Lewiston-Auburn) can tell you what a shut-down mill or two can do to a community. The other half of working Maine, the seacoast, isn't doing much better. Fishing for lobster and north atlantic species. Building ships: Bath Iron Works and, though it's in New Hampshire, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Finally, the Navy more directly in the shape of Brunswick Naval Air Station--now slated for "realignment."
Obviously, there's a lot more going on here. But I don't think I'm mistaken in identifying these industries and their supporting sub-industries as being "flagship" businesses. These are the things Mainers think about when they think of being from Maine. Working in the woods or on the water. And all of these industries are in decline. In Maine's southern district, to compliment these facts, lies some of the wealthiest real estate in the country--and not just in Kennebunk. The median home price in Cumberland county was $230k in 2005, and although the market has stagnated, prices haven't dropped here much--if at all.
What I'm trying to illustrate here is that there is a natural constituency in Maine for the rock-ribbed republican, where one is to be found. There's even a strong voice of populist republicans in the neo-con mode. Every year it seems we get some looney trying to amend the state constitution to ban gays from the universe, fund religous schools, or declare Pat Robertson king of the world. We even get some semi-sympathetic attention from Neo-nazi hate groups trying to prey on the fact that we've many recent immigrants from Somalia and the Sudan creating enclaves in what used to be lily-white working-class/poor neighborhoods.
So that's Snowe and Collins country. Now let's have a look at the Senators themselves.
Olympia Snowe took a seat in Maine's State House all the way back in 1973 when her Republican husband, the late Peter Snowe, was killed in a car accident. In the 33 years since, she has served as a Republican representative from her home in Auburn (the 2nd Congressional district) in some capacity. She served as a US Representative for 16 years (!) before being elected to the US Senate in 1994. Since election to the senate she has served on, among others, the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee and most currently on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. She has been ranked as the 54th most powerful women in the world by Forbes. She is widely regarded, as you Kossaks know, as a centrist.
She voted for cloture. She has endorsed the illegal spying on Americans with that limp "oversight" bill. She endorsed the torture legislation but was absent for the vote. Ditto the death of Habeus Corpus. She favors the Flag Burning amendment. At every turn, she's been a rubber stamp to the Bush administration, but very intelligently. She casts her supporting votes where they will do the most good (cloture, e.g.) and her dissenting votes where they will do her the least harm (then against Alito IIRC). She widely credited locally for keeping Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open, as well as a Navy communications center in the Second District, even though Brunswick succumbed to BRAC. She brings home the bacon--even when it isn't pork, such as FEMA relief for the Ice Storm of 1998. She does for home, and people remember her for that. Losing her seniority is unlikely to compromise what she can bring back to Maine.
And lest we forget, her margin over Democratic Challenger Jean Hay-Bright was 74 to 21. That, my friends, is an ass kicking. There are no inducements for her to cross the line. As a Republican in a year swept by Democrats statewide, she garnered 56% of Democratic votes cast and 96% of Republican votes cast.
Susan Collins. Oh man, Susan Collins. I do not like Susan Collins, not one little bit. However,
Senator Collins was raised in Caribou, a small city in northern Maine, where both her parents have at one time served as mayor. Her family runs a fifth-generation lumber business, founded by her ancestors in 1844 and operated today by two of her brothers.That's from her senate bio. You just can't get more Maine than that. You can't. Sorry.
She has a much shorter track record than Snowe, and could be vulnerable in an election, but again, she's got no reason to switch. Nor would we necessarily want her. She averages about 45% on ACLU positions. She's in the 50% range on civil rights voting. She consistently gets 80% ratings from the John Birch Society and the Eagle Forum. She likes the credits for the estate tax. She voted against free speech with respect to the flag burning amendment. She voted NOT to investigate the contracts extended for Iraq war support. She voted against Judicial review of detainees at Guantanamo.
Needless to say, she favors torture and hates habeus.
Hell, she even voted for the Fence!
According to Survey USA she is enjoying 72% approval ratings here in the Great State of Maine.
So what does this all mean? It means that, at least as far as Mainers go, the GoP may be full of scoundrels and cheats, but our Senators are A-OK! If you have nothing to worry about in your home state, why would you risk coming off as uncommitted by switching parties.
In fact, remaining GoP after all that has happened would likely strengthen the impression that you're an independent-minded, principled person. Maine likes contrarians. Our most popular recent governor was Independent Angus King--served two terms. The state motto is Dirigo--"I lead." Switching parties isn't leading--it's blowing with the wind.
So. As attractive a fantasy as it might be to imagine that either one of these ladies might switch parties, forget about it. It ain't happening.