Maine moderate Olympia Snowe, whose Senate seat has long been considered vulnerable in a Republican primary, has a new Tea Party challenger: Andrew Ian Dodge.
The state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots in Maine, Dodge told TPM he will announce his entrance into the race Friday at a press conference at CPAC. He’ll be the second to jump into the GOP primary against Snowe after businessman Scott D’amboise declared his run last year.
You may not recognize Dodge’s name, but if you’ve read news coverage of the Tea Party over the last year you’ve almost certainly seen him quoted. Dodge’s friendly relationship with reporters and off-beat analysis has made him one of the most frequently cited activists in the movement by mainstream reporters.
“I have the basics in place right now,” he said of his nascent campaign in an interview with TPM. “I’m working on it. More will be made obvious once I announce.”
He said he hopes to focus his campaign on fiscal conservatism and challenging the President, in contrast to Maine’s two moderate Republican Senators who “sell out the Republicans whenever they get the chance.”
Lacking electoral experience, Dodge is a long shot by any standard, and doesn’t exactly conform to the usual image of a Senate candidate: He’s typically clad in black. He sports a goatee and long greying hair reminiscent of a heavy metal roadie. He works as a freelance columnist penning political analysis and hard rock music reviews and has written a trilogy of “cyber-punky, kind of William Gibson-esque” novels which he has published himself. Given the intense antipathy of the Tea Party for Snowe over her votes for TARP and the stimulus, however, any challenger tapped into the grassroots has potential to catch fire.
Dodge takes pride in his iconoclastic politics, but his views and affiliations are a nexus of conflict for conservative activists, threatening to further divide the already-fractured Tea Party in Maine as it looks to unseat Snowe. A self-identified libertarian, Dodge has been one of the most prominent Tea Partiers behind a push to sideline social issues, co-authoring a widely circulated petition calling on Republicans in Congress to stick to the economy this year. The letter has inflamed tensions with religious conservatives, many of whom are boycotting CPAC this year over its inclusion of a gay Republican group, GOProud. It’s also drawn criticism from Tea Party activists in Maine. The only other challenger to Snowe thus far, Scott D’Amboise, is pro-life.
“I’m not a woman, so I dare not tell a woman what to do with her body,” he said. “I’m not pro-choice either if thats possible in this day and age. It’s something I don’t think about.”
Dodge, who also favors leaving gay marriage to the states, says he sees his more moderate positions as necessary to win a general election. He pointed to Chandler Woodcock’s unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial run as evidence of social conservatives’ radioactivity in the state.
“He got creamed,” he said. “The point is not to take down Snowe, it’s to win the general and I’m convinced that a social conservative, that a Jim DeMint type, will not win.”
Dodge is not a fan of Glenn Beck, whose 9/12 project he believes is too closely connected to evangelical Christianity. He dismissed his DC rally this year as a “religious revival” meant to boost “Beck’s ego.” At the same time, he’s is not a Ron Paul Republican either, a common template for libertarian challengers. “I don’t like him because of his foreign policy,” he said.
Already, the grassroots has been strained by Governor Paul LePage, who won this year by closely courting the Tea Party vote, and his decision to endorse his longtime friend Snowe. Complicating matters further, the Tea Party Express — a bitter rival to Dodge’s Tea Party Patriots — has pledged just this week to take on Snowe themselves. The numerous fault lines crisscrossing the primary threaten to turn one of the most promising Tea Party electoral opportunities into a multi-car pileup.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.