The Anguished Moderate | Olympia J. Snowe

By Jonathan Weisman and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe will be on the streets of Portland and Brunswick and Bangor this week consulting her "greatest barometer" on the war.

"I'm immersed inside the Beltway debate," the Maine Republican said before heading home for Congress's August recess. "I want to see fresh, from their eyes, how they interpret the events, whether it's positive or negative, how they view the president's performance and the Congress's, as far as their overall handling of the war.

"We will have conversations," a break, she says, from Washington, where "we're not having conversations now; we're having polarizing debate."

These will be Snowe's first personal meetings with the people of Maine since she threw herself behind legislation to end the war. And it will be her last visit with them before the debate over Iraq begins anew, and in earnest, in September.

She worries that her position has been mischaracterized by the war supporters among her constituents, as it has been by her opponents, as a demand for immediate withdrawal. She will find out over lunch this week at Becky's Diner on Commercial Street in Portland, which draws people from throughout the state, and this vacation season, the country.

In a poll in the spring, more than 70 percent of Maine residents said that they were dissatisfied with the direction of the war. In calls and letters, "I've had a lot of varied expressions," she said. "But frankly, they have been predominantly in support of the war."

But she will not be swayed.

"You don't have to agree about a war to have enormous respect," she said. In Maine, she says, "we learn a lot by listening."

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