Olympia J. Snowe: The Caretaker

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Senator Olympia Snowe, Maine.

Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington. Last year she was one of 14 Senators who reached a compromise on President Bush's judicial nominees that prevented a Senate meltdown between the two parties. More recently, she helped craft an agreement to increase congressional oversight of the Administration's no-warrant surveillance program, helping ease tensions between the Senate and the White House.

But while Snowe, 59, is a major player on national issues, she is also known as one of the most effective advocates for her constituents. First elected in 1994, she goes back to Maine nearly every weekend, often stopping in a small town for what she calls a "Main Street tour" — walking the streets and visiting shops to ask people what they're thinking about. "It's better than any poll I can think of," she says. When Snowe returns to Capitol Hill, she looks to fix the problems Maine residents have told her about: she successfully fought to keep open two Maine military bases recommended for closure last year, and last month she got passed a bill that will provide millions to pay the heating bills of low-income people, a huge worry in frigid Maine.

Snowe's formula of being clued into the center and into home have made her very popular in Maine. In a March poll by Survey USA, 71% of Snowe's constituents approved of her performance, a rating only a handful of Senators ever score. And voters often show their support more directly. In 2003, after one of her numerous disagreements with the Bush administration, she almost single-handedly forced Bush to lower a tax-cut proposal from $700 billion to $350 billion. Republicans in Washington were furious. But a few days later in Portland, a driver saw Snowe on the street from his car window and shouted to the surprised Senator: "You go, Olympia. You stand strong."