EDITORIAL: Saving that rare bird, the Northeast Republican

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins is one of three Republican senators who helped an $838 billion economic stimulus bill pass in the Senate.

Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine have taken a real beating from their congressional colleagues and their party's grass-roots for supporting the economic stimulus bill, but their yes votes (along with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter's) should be seen as a wake-up call to the party about the nation's political realignment.

Looking at the bill, there seemed to be no added incentive to support it for any of the three in terms of state funding, or pork projects. Maine is slated to get about $2.4 billion, adding total spending and tax cuts. Pennsylvania, much more populous, gets an estimated $8.2 billion. While Sen. Specter, who had cancer, had reportedly pushed hard for cancer funds in the stimulus bill, there are no smoking guns (lobster studies for Maine, Liberty Bell repair for Pennsylvania, etc.) that have been found, leaving only one thing: Each senator made a political calculation in his or her decision that there would be few negative political consequences - and possible positive ones - from their constituents by voting yes.

Northeast Republicans have been on a slow death march for more than 20 years, and these three, along with Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, are the last of the breed. Mrs. Snowe responded to criticism of her support for the bill that it was not she who had changed but her party. But actually it is her state. New Hampshire and Maine, both low tax states, have benefited from refugees flooding their lower regions, fleeing high taxes in Massachusetts (popularly called "Taxachusetts," which this month came up with a tentative Big Brother plan to use GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent for every mile of driving). Many of these new refugees are liberals in many respects - just not so in regard to forking over more of their own income to the state - and in any case each new refugee transforms the conservative body politic. There is a clear message of irony that Republicans could be using to impress on these new residents: It is Maine and New Hampshire's conservative policies that made the states attractive to them in the first place.

The Republican Party should think broader about the decisions of their Northeast brethren in Congress and consider what happened in Illinois five years ago. When the state party decided to throw Sen. Peter Fitzgerald under the bus in 2004, it unknowingly opened the door to Barack Obama, whose ascendancy to the White House coincided with a Democratic tide that has yet to ebb. New Hampshire voted out Republican Sen. John Sununu last year and Sen. Gregg is scheduled to retire in 2010. It isn't promising that the state will have a Republican senator anytime soon. Mrs. Snowe may face defeat in her upcoming election in 2010 (another reason for her support of the stimulus), and Mrs. Collins may in 2014. Beating up on them will not help the party gain seats there, and unless the Republican Party is prepared to abandon those states, as Democrats did for 40 years in the South, it would behoove the GOP to look past the stimulus and hold on to what it has or face the extinction of the exceedingly rare Northeast Republican.

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