Down East 2013 ©
On November 7, 1978, an ambitious thirty-one year old named Olympia Snowe watched excitedly as early returns came in for Maine’s second district Congressional election. For then State Senator Snowe, this was her first foray into national politics.
An editorial in the Jacksonville Courier in September 1978 referred to this congressional race as “the kind of political drama that would make a Hollywood screenwriter salivate.” It pitted the Republican Snowe, a Greek-American orphaned as a child and widowed in her mid-twenties when her husband died in a car crash, against Democrat Mike Gartley, a thirty-four-year-old former navy jet pilot captured in Vietnam, who earned fame as the first American prisoner-of-war to be freed by the enemy. Snowe ran on a platform against the proposed Aroostook County Dickey-Lincoln dam that would have been the world’s second largest dam and as a moderate who would advocate for better health care in Maine at the federal level.
Gartley was the assumed front-runner thanks to his name recognition, but Snowe ended up winning by 10 percentage points and 17,000 more votes. The victory made Snowe the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman ever elected to Congress. She served in the House for sixteen years, and then as a senator for eighteen.
Snowe exits national politics this month. For the first time in thirty-four years, Mainers will not have this one-of-a-kind Greek-American, moderate Republican vouching for them in Washington. Farewell Senator Snowe. —Will Bleakley
Photograph: © Bettmann/Corbis