How To Deal With Olympia Snowe

Remember this is only one vote to get one bill out of one committee. That is all. Snowe acknowledges that she still has reservations and that there are huge holes in the bill. Any shift to the left may change her vote on the floor.

Here are some realities to ponder. In 2008, Obama carried Maine by 18 points. In 2008, Susan Collins beat popular Congressman Tom Allen by 23 points. In 2006, when Republicans were crushed, Snowe retained her seat with 74% of the vote. Olympia Snowe, like Susan Collins, isn’t going anywhere. She is extremely popular.

Furthermore, the conservative and libertarian strains that do exist in Maine are very independent. It’s a stubbornly independent state, as reflected by their two Senators. Some of you may recall that Maine was the only state where Ross Perot finished second, besting George H.W. Bush. There is no great loyalty to the national GOP up there.

I support grass roots activism, but pure venom from outsiders has little effect on politicians like Snowe. Snowe didn’t run on a platform that she’d be to loyal to the GOP whip; on a platform that she’d follow Mitch McConnell; or on a platform that she’d listen to people in Texas. Does Tom Coburn care what Boston Republicans think about his actions? Would Jeff Sessions tremble if a bunch of Log Cabin Republicans from New York City with funny accents flooded his office with hateful calls.

The problem is that such venom can actually backfire. If Mainers see a bunch of people ganging up against one their own, they are more likely to rally around her. There are ways to engage in activism that isn’t silly, futile or counter-productive:

1. Snowe and her staffers will tune out venom if it is not coming from Mainers. Express outrage constructively, thoughtfully and passionately; but not with spite, hate or threats. When Southerners and Westerners attack Snowe and Collins, it reinforces negative stereotypes and sectionalism. Such tactics actually make it more difficult being a Republican up here. Many New Englanders feel that the GOP is a Southern party and that they have no place in it. Be respectful. It goes a long way in Old New England.

2. Try to use as many local outlets as you can. I compiled a list of phone numbers and emails during the cap and trade debate. Along with their offices, I used local radio hosts, newspapers and industry groups. For example, staffers may not care what a lobsterman from Massachusetts thinks about cap and trade, but they do care what the Maine Lobsterman Association has to say. I’ll bet Snowe and Collins listen to the MLA. Lobstermen will listen to each other, so I sent emails to various fishery groups and let them apply the pressure. I also got in touch with local radio hosts. If you know people from Maine, rally them. One call from a Mainer is worth ten thousand calls from Texans.

3. Use her. Let the hate dissipate for a moment. No one knows where she will stand when this bill comes out of conference committee or what’s going to happen next. But Snowe has tons of instant good will and credibility amongst independents, Democrats and the MSM. If we can turn her on the foor, it will be absolutely devastating. We can also use her good will against any attempt at reconciliation or any other chicanery. She put herself in position to control this whole thing. Stopping this monstrosity is more important than pursuing revenge. Alienating her now is stupid.

4. She’s marked her independence. She has shown her constituents that she is open minded and willing to work with Obama. She felt that she needed to do that. In the future, this vote may help her vote with the GOP. Now, she is free to rebuff Obama’s agenda without fear of being labeled a partisan or a lackey. That is a big key for her in that state. Her popularity is based on her independence. There was no way that she was going to vote with GOP all the time. If she sides with the Dems on enough procedural votes, it may free her up to side with the GOP when the vote actually matters. The House bill will have a public option and it will be more expensive. This Baucus Bill is not the final act. The final bill will be worse. There may be an opportunity to turn her yet and this vote may actually free her up to vote no.

5. Snowe isn’t even up for re-election until 2012 and she is practically unbeatable. Save your energy for defeating legislation in this cycle. That is the most important thing. After that, focus on a handful of Senate seats in 2010 that will give the GOP a healthy filibuster and then Snowe will be irrelevant. In the end, after all the huffing and puffing, that is the best hope for conservatives.