I don't agree with everything in this Politico article. But the broad point is certainly one worth airing. Not that it will get much play in the Maine media.
Stung by a series of setbacks on must-pass legislation, Democrats think they've found a culprit: local tea party influence in the home states of usually reliable moderates.
In a span of just a few days, Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have forced Democrats to dramatically scale back an unemployment benefits and tax bill, and they were part of a small coalition that effectively killed a bank tax tucked into a major Wall Street overhaul bill.
Democrats believe their positioning is no coincidence if one looks at what's going on back in Maine.
The Maine Republican Party has moved fiercely to the right with a new party backed by tea partiers, and GOP voters nominated a gubernatorial candidate who emerged as a tea party favorite. More pressing for Snowe, however, is that some conservative activists want to find a primary challenger to run against her in 2012.
"It's getting increasingly difficult," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, when asked about rounding up moderate GOP votes. "And I think Maine is going through its own transformation and challenge within the Republican Party. And I think that's a factor."
Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, said "different senators vote the way they do--who knows all the constellations and reasons." And while he said he wasn't sure about the Maine moderates’ motivations to hold firm against the tax extenders bill, he said he “heard” from others that home-state politics were a factor.
In interviews with POLITICO, Snowe, Collins and Murkowski all rejected the idea that shifting politics back home would change their votes in the Senate, saying they were concerned about the costs and provisions in the proposed legislation...
Yet there's no denying that the Maine Republican Party is in a different place these days.
In May, the Maine Republican Party adopted a platform that praises the tea party movement and calls for an investigation into the "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth," a "freeze" of stimulus funds, a rejection of all treaties with the United Nations, elimination of the Department of Education, steps to abolish the Federal Reserve and an assertion that health care is not a right...
In an interview, Collins hailed the GOP’s gubernatorial primary in her state, saying it turned out the largest number of voters in nearly 60 years, claiming it was a sign of the "health" of the state party. The energy behind the party platform, she said, was the result of anxiety about jobs and an antipathy toward the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
Asked if her state’s Republican Party was squeezing out moderates, Collins said: "Not at all. Look, there were several moderate candidates who ran for governor. The party in Maine is a big-tent party, and we are united and concerned about spending."
Snowe, up for reelection in 2012 for a fourth term, is already being targeted by tea party groups in her state that cite her support for an early version of Democratic health care legislation and her decision to vote for the $787 billion stimulus--as Collins did, too.
"She will have an opponent in the primary--I guarantee it," Andrew Dodge, a coordinator for the Maine Tea Party Patriots, said of Snowe.
In an interview, Snowe said she was not worried about talk of facing a primary challenge in 2012.
"I’m sure many people have a lot of conversations," Snowe said. "My concern is solving problems for the nation, as I have for the time that I've been here, so I wouldn’t worry about that."