Would Snowe switch?

WOULD SNOWE SWITCH?…. Shortly before the midterm elections, the buzz was about Senate Republicans possibly trying to get Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to caucus with the GOP. That didn’t go far. Shortly after the elections, the focus shifted to whether Joe Manchin might be willing to switch.

But this was (largely pointless) scuttlebutt about Dems willing to join the GOP. The new buzz deals with a Republican who might be recruited to switch in the other direction.

National Journal ran a very brief item the other day, noting that Democrats are “making new overtures to Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to switch teams.” The report noted that this wouldn’t be the first time, “but Snowe’s 2012 primary prospects make taking another run at her now seem worth it.”

That was it. The whole report ran just 36 words, and included no quotes.

But the Snowe story is sparking some chatter anyway, in part because it’s actually kind of plausible.

Sen. Snowe appears a smart target for Democrats. A moderate Republican and occasional Democratic companion, Snowe faces an increasingly difficult road to reelection in 2012, especially with the rising conservative tide that is now lapping at the shores of — or perhaps flooding — the Pine Tree State.

In a state with two moderate Republican senators and two Democratic congressman, the Republican wave last week provided passage for Tea Party-backed gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, a boisterous and controversial small-town mayor, to become Maine’s next Governor (with the campaign help of Snowe, no less). Maine Republicans also made huge gains in the state House and Senate, taking majority control of both.

This may be a bad sign for Sen. Snowe, who is now left to wonder if Republicans of her tilt aren’t a dying breed, even in a state that has long been a bastion for [moderation].

It’s admittedly an old poll, but a year ago, a PPP survey found a generic conservative leading Snowe in a Republican primary by 28 points — and far-right activists have only grown more emboldened since.

The idea of Snowe losing to a GOP challenger may seem absurd, but then again, so was the idea of Mike Castle losing a primary fight to Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, a contest Snowe no doubt watched with interest.

If she sticks with the GOP, Snowe would not only risk losing in a primary, but she’d also have to spend the next year and a half moving further to the right than she’s generally comfortable with. Giving up on her far-right party, in contrast, would allow her to ignore conservatives’ demands and improve her odds of keeping her job.

This week, a leader of the Tea Party Patriots announced that Snowe “is definitely our next target.” Dems are giving her a way out of that mess.

The response from the GOP will very likely be, “Remember Specter.” The retiring Pennsylvanian expected to lose a Republican primary, jumped to the Dems, and ended up losing in a Democratic primary — and Republicans will tell Snowe the same thing could happen to her. But I don’t think it necessarily would, given that Snowe enjoys more support from Maine Dems than Specter ever enjoyed from Pennsylvania Dems.

I wouldn’t expect a decision anytime soon, and for her part, Snowe hasn’t so much as hinted about being open to such outreach. All we have here is a report that Dems intend to reach out.

Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.