By DeWayne Wickham
When the history of her time on the political stage is written, it's a good bet that Olympia Snowe will be seen as the linear successor to Margaret Chase Smith, not Mike Castle.
Castle, the nine-term moderate Republican congressman, was defeated by Christine O'Donnell last year in his bid for Delaware's GOP Senate nomination. O'Donnell was backed BY the Tea Party movement, which pilloried Castle for his willingness to work with congressional Democrats to win passage of legislation.
O'Donnell was soundly beaten by Democrat Chris Coons in the general election.
Snowe, a moderate GOP senator from Maine, also has tried to bring some sanity to the political divide between congressional Democrats and Republicans during her three terms in the Senate. For her efforts she too has drawn the wrath of the Tea Party, an uncompromising fringe of the GOP's right wing.
Now, Andrew Ian Dodge, the head of Maine's Tea Party organization, says he'll challenge Snowe's bid next year to win the Republican Party's Senate nomination in the Pine Tree State. That's a mistake because Maine's voters have a long history of backing candidates who look out for them rather than cowtow to others.
Like Smith, who was the first woman from Maine to serve in the Senate, Snowe refuses to be a GOP pawn in its ideological tug-of-war with Democrats. When Republicans and Democrats were locked in a standoff over the health care bill, Snowe joined the Gang of Six (a group of centrist and moderate Republicans and Democrats) and tried to produce a compromise. She's also a leader of the Centrist Coalition, moderate members of the two parties who seek compromise on issues which too often reduce the Senate to a squabbling, ineffective chamber.
The Tea Party treats compromise as political heresy, and Snowe thinks the Tea Party is a destructive force within the Republican Party.
"What works in South Carolina and Delaware may not work in Maine," Snowe said last year of the group's ideological litmus test, according to CNN. "We all have different views. We're independent. I can't go back to the people of my state and say, "Excuse me, I have to be 100% ideologically pure because someone has dictated that from another state. It just wouldn't wash."
That's the kind of independent streak that Smith showed when she became the first member of the Senate to speak out against the abuses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist crusade.
"I speak as a Republican, I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States senator. I speak as an American," Smith said in her 1950 "Declaration of Conscience" speech in which she criticized the lack of backbone of Republicans and Democrats. "The United States has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination," she complained.
Snowe was equally courageous in bucking Republican leaders by working for compromise in the Senate. Just as Smith put the nation before party in 1950, Snowe now does the same when she joins with moderate Democrats to search for common ground.
I think Maine's GOP voters will reward Snowe's brand of New England Republicanism, just as they did Smith, who first won election to the Senate in 1948 and was re-elected three times. Her last victory came two years after she challenged conservative icon Barry Goldwater for the GOP presidential nomination in 1964.
What I don't think is that they'll repear the mistake that was made in Delaware.