Big news out of the Pine Tree State this after­noon: Olympia Snowe, one of Maine’s two incum­bent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, has announced that she has decid­ed not to seek reelec­tion in 2012, cit­ing a desire to be free of the par­ti­san ran­cor that per­vades Capi­tol Hill these days. Her deci­sion to retire could have a pro­found effect on the U.S. Sen­ate elec­toral land­scape for this cycle, giv­ing Democ­rats a much-need­ed pick­up oppor­tu­ni­ty to off­set like­ly loss­es elsewhere.

“After thir­ty-three years in the Con­gress, this was not an easy deci­sion,” Snowe said in a state­ment. “My hus­band and I are in good health. We have laid an excep­tion­al­ly strong foun­da­tion for the cam­paign, and I have no doubt I would have won re-elec­tion. It has been an inde­scrib­able hon­or and immea­sur­able priv­i­lege to serve the peo­ple of Maine, first in both hous­es of Maine’s leg­is­la­ture and lat­er in both hous­es of Con­gress. To this day, I remain deeply pas­sion­ate about pub­lic ser­vice, and I cher­ish the oppor­tu­ni­ty I have been giv­en for near­ly four decades to help improve the lives of my fel­low Mainers.”

“Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I do not real­is­ti­cal­ly expect the par­ti­san­ship of recent years in the Sen­ate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in pub­lic ser­vice, I have con­clud­ed that I am not pre­pared to com­mit myself to an addi­tion­al six years in the Sen­ate, which is what a fourth term would entail.”

Snowe’s announce­ment seemed to catch many of her fel­low Repub­li­cans off-guard, includ­ing her seat­mate, fel­low Repub­li­can Susan Collins, who called her deci­sion “a com­plete sur­prise”. The dead­line to file is just two weeks away, so prospec­tive can­di­dates from both par­ties will need to come to a deci­sion quick­ly about running.

Chel­lie Pin­gree, one of Maine’s two Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, has already hint­ed that she is giv­ing seri­ous thought to enter­ing the race.

“I want to thank Sen­a­tor Snowe for her decades of ser­vice to the peo­ple of Maine,” Pin­gree said in a press release issued in the wake of Snowe’s announce­ment. “From her time in the House to her three terms in the Sen­ate, Sen­a­tor Snowe has shown her inde­pen­dence and ded­i­ca­tion to Maine. I called Sen­a­tor Snowe ear­li­er to wish her and her hus­band all the best in the next stage of her life.

She added: “This upcom­ing elec­tion is crit­i­cal to the future of our work­ing fam­i­lies around the coun­try, and in the com­ing days I will care­ful­ly con­sid­er how I can best serve the peo­ple of Maine.”

If Pin­gree runs, she stands a good chance of win­ning the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, which will be decid­ed in June . She already rep­re­sents half of the state, and was one of only eight Democ­rats to receive a high­er per­cent­age of the vote in 2010 (a dif­fi­cult cycle for Democ­rats) than in 2008, when she was first elected.

In her one and a half terms in the U.S. House, she has con­sis­tent­ly worked to advance the com­mon good and strength­en Amer­i­ca’s com­mon wealth. Her cru­cial life­time score on Pro­gres­sivePunch is an impres­sive 92.29%, and she is ranked as one of the coun­try’s most pro­gres­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tives. (She is also a mem­ber of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Caucus).

The Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (PCCC), which helped draft Eliz­a­beth War­ren into the race against Scott Brown in Mass­a­chu­setts a few months ago, has already launched a “Draft Pin­gree” effort, which could catch fire in the com­ing days.

Ger­ald Weinand, pro­pri­etor of Diri­go Blue, Maine’s best-known pro­gres­sive blog, has a must-read piece look­ing at might hap­pen next, enti­tled The real­i­ty of run­ning for an open seat in Maine. Click on over to get his per­spec­tive and leave a com­ment if you’re so inclined. Diri­go Blue also has more reac­tion to the news of Snowe’s retire­ment.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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