Taking a leaf from the Democratic group whose centrist views helped launch Bill Clinton toward the presidency, two prominent Maine Republicans are promoting a new national organization that reflects the beliefs of moderates within their party.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John McKernan, hope the Main Street Coalition will shape the GOP legislative agenda on Capitol Hill and attract more voters to the Republican Party.
Snowe said the group will strive to reinvigorate the party and win back Republicans who have become disenchanted with its positions on ideological and social issues.
“The essential idea is to create a centrist group to be a driving force in the legislative process and develop positions that can be helpful to the Republican Party,” Snowe said. “We need to show that we have a broader party by talking about issues that bring conservatives and moderates together.”
The group, which is still in its formative stages, will be headed by McKernan, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware and Rep. Amos Houghton of New York. So far, 46 members of the House and two governors have joined. Over the next several weeks, Snowe will work to recruit Republican senators.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she probably will join. As a moderate in the Senate, Collins said the Main Street Coalition could play an important role in moderating the Republican agenda.
“Since the Republicans took control of the Congress [in 1994], many of the policy ideas have come from the more conservative wing of the party. And I give the conservative wing a lot of credit for that,” Collins said. “I think the moderate wing has been a bit slow to develop its own agenda, other than on the [abortion] issue.”
Unlike some other Republican groups, the Main Street Coalition will not focus on a single issue such as abortion, McKernan and Snowe said. Instead, they said, the group will try to define a legislative agenda that both moderates and conservatives can support.
Over the long run, McKernan said, the group will serve as a research arm for centrist politicians to advance “some middle-of-the-road positions.”
Snowe said the group may take positions on issues such as education, the environment, worker-training initiatives and child care reform. The group is expected to unveil a specific agenda this month, she said.
McKernan and Snowe said the group is modeled after the Democratic Leadership Council, which was the launching pad for Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992. But they said the Main Street Coalition is not designed to advance any one person’s political career.