Olympia Snowe, one of the two moderate Republican senators from Maine who often make the difference in close votes, has announced that she will not be seeking re-election later this year. Snowe has served in the Senate since 1995, and was a member of the House before that since 1979. Not surprisingly for someone of Snowe's reputation, she identified the increasingly polarized nature of U.S. politics as one of the motivating factors of her decision in a statement she released yesterday:
I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and "my way or the highway" ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.
With my Spartan ancestry I am a fighter at heart; and I am well prepared for the electoral battle, so that is not the issue. However, what I have had to consider is how productive an additional term would be. Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.
Snowe gave no indication of what she'll be doing next, beyond the expectedly vague language of serving the country and staying committed and giving a voice to the citizens, etc. (Some people think she might run on the Americans Elect presidential ticket, which would be interesting.)
Snowe's retirement is good news for Democrats as they work to keep control of the Senate in the upcoming election. The party is defending more seats than the Republicans — including a handful of races that for now are simply impossible to predict — and there would have been virtually no chance of beating the extremely popular Snowe. Without an incumbent, it's much more likely a Democrat could take the election, though by no means a given. (Impressive that even as she leaves the Senate, she manages to be a bit of a thorn in the side of her party.)
Sen. Snowe will hold a press conference to talk more about her decision when she returns to Maine on Friday.