DANI ALEXIS RYSKAMP: Rumors are circulating that Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine may be contemplating a switch to the Democratic Party, or may be being wooed to do so. Unfortunately, I suspect the Dems would simply be getting another Blue Dog who was less helpful than otherwise.
The move may be more comfortable for Senator Snowe, who has already expressed her opinion that the Republican party has changed into a place where she, already an outsider, is even less welcome than usual. One potential downside to the Democrats’ attempt to win her over is that, if successful, Snowe’s switch will leave open a space in the GOP for a politician further right than Snowe, which will merely continue to push the party into the realm of the radical.
Snowe has already been willing to vote with the Democrats on a number of important measures, including the health care reform package and the Wall Street reform bill. This puts her ahead of a handful of party-certified Democrats, but leaves her firmly in the middle of the road – perhaps the only reasonable position for the Democrats, but arguably one that will accomplish nothing. If the first two years of the Obama Administration taught us anything, it’s that the Democrats cannot get anything progressive finished even when they hold the White House and both chambers of Congress – no matter how dearly they love bipartisanship.
JESSICA BADER: While it’s interesting to speculate about what would happen if Olympia Snowe switched parties, it’s pretty much an academic exercise. In fact, I’d be shocked if any member of Congress were to switch parties over the next two years.
During the 111th Congress, there were two party switches. The first, and more prominent, was Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who, like Snowe, was a moderate Republican from a blue state who voted for the stimulus. Specter switched parties to avoid the near-certainty that former Representative Pat Toomey would beat him in a primary. Yet, even acting and voting like a mainstream Democrat for the next year was not enough to get him through the Democratic primary, where he was defeated by Representative Joe Sestak, who had been a mainstream Democrat for more than a year and made sure that primary voters were aware of that. The other party switcher was Representative Parker Griffith, a conservative freshman Democrat from northern Alabama who became a Republican last December. Griffith proceeded to lose the Republican primary 51-33.
After having seen two party-switchers not make it past their new primary electorate, I think any moderate on either side of the aisle will be very reluctant to consider a switch – if their new party can’t even clear the primary field, what’s the point?
While Snowe is probably in serious danger of a primary challenge as a Republican, there’s no guarantee she’d face smooth sailing on that front as a Democrat. As much as the idea of a universe where Snowe voted for the final healthcare reform bill and Ben Nelson didn’t appeals to me, the reality is that Snowe will be filibustering the Paycheck Fairness Act and joining lawsuits against healthcare reform and doing other Republican-base-pleasing things because that’s what she needs to do to run for another term as a Republican.