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Snowe Fall

PPP has a striking new poll out regarding Olympia Snowe's popularity with Maine voters:

46% of Republicans now disapprove of Snowe’s job performance with only 40% approving. Her overall approval remains at a relatively solid 51/36 spread thanks to good numbers from Democrats (60% giving her good marks) and independents (51%)....

59% of respondents who identified themselves as Republican primary voters said they would prefer to vote for a more conservative challenger then while only 31% said they would go for Snowe. She may find that her clearest path to reelection is as an independent. While she wins the support of Republican liberals and moderates, conservatives make up two thirds of the party base and she trails with them 75-18.

Yes, of course, a generic candidate like the one polled lacks the political warts that any flesh-and-blood challenger would inevitably bear. But if I'm the tea-party-friendly mayor of Anytown, Maine--or a successful businessman, a la Doug Hoffman--I still might look at those numbers and think, why not? There's clearly a strong appetite among Maine Republicans for an alternative to Snowe, and any challenger who managed to get even a little bit of traction would be poised to become the conservative celebrity and litmus test du jour.

If she or (more likely) he lost to Snowe, he'd be the latest glorious conservative martyr; if he won, sure, he'd get crushed in general, but he'd still be the heroic RINO-slayer who put the fear of God into weak-willed GOP squishes across the land. That's the no-lose proposition of the insurgent right: They love you win or lose. The former feeds their sense that they're on the rise; the latter, their feelings of grievance and victimhood. In either case, it'd be a significant step up from anonymity in Anytown.

Under normal circumstances, this is the kind of insurgent candidacy that would quickly be squelched by the party establishment in the name of holding onto a GOP seat in inhospitable terrain. And perhaps that's still what would happen. But the establishment's clout contra the conservative insurgents is at a historic low, and it wouldn't take much--a Palin endorsement here, a Beck crusade there--to scramble the usual political assumptions.

The real question, of course, is what Olympia Snowe thinks when she sees this poll: that she's probably finished with today's GOP and should keep her independent streak alive by voting for health care reform (or, at least, cloture); or that she badly needs to shore up her right flank by voting against?