Snowe—the lone GOP health reform vote—to resign from Senate

Moderate senator's announcement comes as 'complete surprise'

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe—the only Republican in the Senate to vote for a version of the federal health reform law—on Tuesday announced she would not seek re-election this fall, CQ HealthBeat reports.

After 33 years in Congress, the moderate, three-term senator said the "atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions." Although she said she expected to be re-elected, she questioned "how productive an additional term would be" given the political climate, which she considers unlikely to change in the short term.

During the reform law debate, Snowe expressed support for efforts to expand health insurance coverage to the uninsured. In a highly public move, Snowe voted for a version of the overhaul approved by the Senate Finance Committee, becoming the only Senate Republican to approve of any version of the law. However, she refused to vote for the final version of the law because it included employer mandate provisions and tax provisions to fund insurance subsidies. 

Snowe's announcement on Tuesday came as a "complete surprise," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Although some GOP members have criticized her willingness to cross party lines, Snowe remains a popular figure in Maine politics, and pundits say she likely would have been re-elected in November. Snowe already had staffed her re-election campaign and raised more than $3.4 million by the end of December 2011.

Snowe's decision not to seek re-election opens a seat once considered relatively safe for Republicans, the Bangor Daily News reports. According to Maine Republican Party Chair Charlie Webster, Snowe's withdrawal could shake up Maine's Congressional races. The state's two Democratic U.S. House members and the president of the state Senate—a Republican—now may consider running in the election (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 2/28 [subscription required]; Miller, Bangor Daily News, 2/28; Jan, "Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 2/28).

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