The two frequented the Monocle and Bullfeathers, iconic Capitol Hill watering holes, before McKernan resigned to run for governor of Maine. He won in 1986, and the couple married in 1989, a year before they faced grueling reelection fights. An economic recession and prolonged budget battle fueled anti-incumbent sentiments in 1990 — a scenario not unlike today’s political environment.
“That was highly unusual to have us both on the top of the ticket running for reelection,” Snowe recalled in a recent interview. “It’s something I wouldn’t recommend to people. You put a lot on the line when you’re doing that, both having your elections at stake at the same time. It ultimately worked for us; we obviously love politics, love public service.”
McKernan (R) won another term as governor, and Snowe won another term in the House. Four years later, she joined the Senate. She is retiring next month after a combined 34 years in Congress with several historic distinctions to her name: She is the first woman in U.S. history to serve in both chambers of a state legislature and both chambers of Congress. She was the first Greek American woman to serve in Congress, the youngest Republican woman elected to the House and the first Republican woman to serve on the Senate Finance Committee.
Throughout the years, Snowe said, being married to another politician made life in Washington easier.
“We both understand what the challenges and the pressures are when you’re in the political environment,” she said. “You don’t have to explain anything. From that standpoint, he’s been great support for me over the years. It’s easy to share things with someone who understands what you’re dealing with, what you’re going through.”
In the years since Snowe married McKernan, other political couples have risen in the public eye. Former senators Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) ran separate presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected as a Democratic senator from New York in 2000 before losing her 2008 bid for president and then serving as secretary of state under President Obama. But Reps. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), the House’s only current husband-and-wife team, both lost their races this year, and former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack (D) mounted an unsuccessful run for Congress. In the years to come, polling data suggest that Michelle Obama could win Illinois’s 2016 U.S. Senate race, although the first lady has not indicated a desire to seek public office.
No matter how political spouses decide to spend their time, Snowe said, communication is key.
“Keep in touch every day if you’re separated by miles,” she said. “I was commuting, obviously, and he [McKernan] was in the capital city of Augusta. But we talked every day and shared what was going on in the day, so you always kept up so you weren’t having to catch up at the end of a week. It made a difference.”