And Maine, like Alaska, has an independent streak. Independent Eliot Cutler came close to winning the gubernatorial race this year, and Maine has twice seen independents rise to the state's top job, with Govs. Angus King (I), elected twice, and James Longley (I), elected once. In fact, independents have run in nine of the state's last 10 gubernatorial elections.
University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said he would be stunned if Snowe didn't face a strong challenge from the right, and thinks an independent run is possible.
"I certainly think she could win in the general election as an independent candidate," said Brewer. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."
There has been speculation since the election -- including on this blog -- about the possibility of Snowe running as a Democrat in 2012. But Sen. Arlen Specter's (D) switch, and subsequent defeat in the Democratic primary, may make Snowe and others more cautious about following his path.
Unlike the full-on party switch, what Murkowski did allowed her some
measure of independence without appearing to sell out her party or
renounce them in any way. It also allowed her to talk about the
importance of her Senate seniority during the campaign. Yet the very act
of running without the party's nomination enhanced her credibility with
independent voters and some Democrats. And Snowe, like Murkowski,
already holds appeal to voters outside the GOP. In fact, the September
PPP poll showed her more popular among Democrats and independent voters
than in her own party.
Of course, in Snowe's ideal scenario, she would head off any
challenge from the right and not have to run without party backing. And
for now, Snowe has taken steps to varnish her conservative credentials,
even robo-calling for the Tea Party-backed Gov.-elect Paul LePage (R).
"We know that she was out there campaigning for Paul LePage, and helping LePage raise money," said Brewer. "I really wonder if she'd have done that if she wasn't concerned about a Tea Party fueled challenge from the right in 2012."
It's possible the right may not put forward a credible threat to Snowe, or she may beat back a credible threat in the primary, and she may never need to consider a more complicated route to keeping her seat. But after Alaska, where six months ago no one considered Republican attorney Joe Miller a real threat to Murkowski, Snowe is unlikely to take any challenge from the right with a grain of salt.