By MANU RAJU, Politico
Stung by a series of setbacks on must-pass legislation, Democrats think theyâ€™ve found a culprit: local tea party influence in the home states of usually reliable moderates.
In a span of just a few days, Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have forced Democrats to dramatically scale back an unemployment benefits and tax bill, and they were part of a small coalition that effectively killed a bank tax tucked into a major Wall Street overhaul bill.
Democrats believe their positioning is no coincidence if one looks at whatâ€™s going on back in Maine.
The Maine Republican Party has moved fiercely to the right with a new party backed by tea partiers, and GOP voters nominated a gubernatorial candidate who emerged as a tea party favorite. More pressing for Snowe, however, is that some conservative activists want to find a primary challenger to run against her in 2012.
And itâ€™s not just the Maine moderates whose right flank back home is causing consternation over votes in Washington.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a onetime supporter of cap-and-trade energy proposals, is suddenly facing a Sarah Palin-endorsed tea party candidate in her August primary. Murkowski is no longer thought to be a swing vote on a major energy bill.
â€œItâ€™s getting increasingly difficult,â€ Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, when asked about rounding up moderate GOP votes. â€œAnd I think Maine is going through its own transformation and challenge within the Republican Party. And I think thatâ€™s a factor.â€
Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, said â€œdifferent senators vote the way they do â€” who knows all the constellations and reasons.â€ And while he said he wasnâ€™t sure about the Maine moderatesâ€™ motivations to hold firm against the tax extenders bill, he said he â€œheardâ€ from others that home-state politics were a factor.
In interviews with POLITICO, Snowe, Collins and Murkowski all rejected the idea that shifting politics back home would change their votes in the Senate, saying they were concerned about the costs and provisions in the proposed legislation.
Informed of Durbinâ€™s comments, Snowe said: â€œI think that Sen. Durbin shouldnâ€™t ascribe political motivations.â€ Instead, she blamed â€œgamesmanshipâ€ for the initial impasse over the tax extenders bill
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