February 29, 2012 2:08 am

Moderate Snowe will not seek re-election

Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican senator from Maine, will not seek re-election, dealing a blow to her party’s hopes of winning control of the upper chamber of Congress in November and delivering a striking indictment of the state of US politics.

“I do find it frustrating ... that an atmosphere of polarisation and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions,” said Ms Snowe.

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”I see a vital need for the political centre in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us,” said Ms Snowe, who has served in Congress since 1979 and in the Senate since 1995.

Her retirement complicates Republican efforts to seize the Senate, where the Democrats and their allies hold the majority by a narrow 53 to 47 margin. Several Democratic senators are retiring or facing re-election in Republican-leaning states, offering Republicans a number of plum opportunity for pickups. But Ms Snowe’s departure could offset one of those, given that Maine is traditionally friendly terrain for Democrats.

Ms Snowe’s planned retirement came on the heel of news that Bob Kerrey, the popular former governor and senator from Nebraska, is considering running for Senate in the deeply conservative Midwestern state after ruling it out earlier this year.

Ben Nelson, the conservative Democratic senator from Nebraska, is not running for re-election in November, and many political strategists thought it highly probable that Republicans would be taking over the seat. But if Mr Kerrey is a contender, the race is likely to be much more competitive, dealing another setback to Republican calculations in their pursuit of Senate control.

As well as altering the complexion of the Senate race in November, Ms Snowe’s departure is also likely to be remembered for her attack on the divisions and lack of compromise afflicting Congress, discouraging more centrist members from continuing their tenure. Ms Snowe was possibly going to face a primary challenge from the more conservative Tea Party backed wing of her party, but said she had “no doubt” that she would have won re-election.

The White House, generally mum on Republican congressional retirements, issued a statement from the president in response to the decision. “From her unwavering support for our troops, to her efforts to reform Wall Street, to fighting for Maine’s small businesses, Sen Snowe’s career demonstrates how much can be accomplished when leaders from both parties come together to do the right thing for the American people,” said Barack Obama, US president.

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