When Andrew Ian Dodge recently--and audaciously--guaranteed that Sen. Snowe would be in for a 2012 primary fight, I was intrigued. So last Friday, I gave the Maine Tea Party Patriots coordinator a call.
Gregarious and well-spoken, Dodge told me that he's worked in politics in both the US and the UK--including a stint managing a friend's campaign for parliament during a long stretch living overseas.
Several years ago, he moved back to Maine, where his family's roots stretch back several generations.
When I asked about the tea party movement in the state, and the threat it presents to Snowe, he was surprisingly measured: Dodge focused on the challenges facing the Maine Tea Party coming out of a divisive Republican primary--the potential for fracturing and infighting; the risk of being seen as the "cranky end of the Republican party"; the fact that many tea partiers are new to politics.
In fact, if anything he seemed to be downplaying the potential pitfalls Snowe faces on the road to reelection: He emphasized how powerful the senior senator is within a state Republican party he sees as insular, establishment-oriented and moderate--and more or less cut off from average voters. And he drew attention to the career risks a Republican pol would face by taking Snowe on.
But isn't Snowe almost ridiculously out of step with the Maine GOP base? Doesn't the current political climate make the senior senator's have-it-both-ways posture more difficult than ever to sustain? And isn't the tea party movement just the sort of energetic, ideological grassroots phenomenon that could nudge the Maine GOP into a paradigm shift?
Evenhanded and cautious, Dodge clearly didn't want to inflate expectations. Still, he did concede that, in Maine, "if you can get 2,000 people at the same time to the same place you're doing something right." And he expressed confidence that, if the movement survives the midterms, the Maine Tea Party will be well-positioned to do big things in 2012.
What's more, while Dodge was reserved--almost dispassionate--when talking about organization and strategy, his tone changed when the topic shifted to Snowe herself. "Her arrogance is amazing," he observed, his contempt palpable. He seemed particularly incensed about her failure to hold town hall meetings or engage with average voters. (Sound familiar?)
And while there wasn't time for an extensive discussion of policy (elsewhere, Dodge has defined the tea party movement as, "at its core, a non-partisan movement that seeks to unseat all politicians that are not fiscally conservative") it's clear that Snowe's work on health care won't be forgotten anytime soon.
In short, Dodge's critique--far from hysterical or unhinged--was coherent and pretty straightforward.
Which is not particularly good news for the senior senator.