NEW START PICKS UP TWO MORE GOP VOTES…. Maybe they really were waiting for an endorsement from George H.W. Bush? The moderates from Maine today threw their support to the pending arms control treaty, New START.

Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have pledged to support the New START nuclear treaty, giving President Obama two crucial GOP votes for his foreign policy priority.

Snowe issued a statement Friday promising to vote for the treaty if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings it to the floor in the lame-duck session.

“I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security,” Snowe said. “Therefore, if the majority moves to consider New START under a framework that allows for sufficient debate and amendments, I intend to support the Resolution of Advice and Consent.”

Shortly after Snowe’s statement, Collins posted a message on Twitter announcing her support for the treaty.

It’s hard to get a firm head-count, but at this point, all 58 members of the Senate Democratic caucus back ratification, and nine GOP votes would seal the deal. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), of course, is one of the treaty’s strongest backers, and Snowe and Collins are now on board. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) sounded like a “yes” earlier this week, and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) already backed the treaty in committee. That’s six Republican votes.

Backers note that Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) have hinted at support, and Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are at least open to reason on the issue. When far-right GOP senators circulated a letter this week in opposition to New START, they received 22 signatures, which is a lot under the circumstances, but it leaves 20 Republicans who didn’t sign it.

In other words, ratification in the lame-duck is still quite possible.

The next question is one of time on the calendar. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, believes it should take two days, maybe three, to complete the process.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.