March 1, 2012 -- Shortly after Sen. Olympia Snowe announced she was not running for re-election, Elliot Ackerman, the chief operating officer of Americans Elect, sympathized with the moderate Republican's plight.
"There is a consensus right now that our system is dysfunctional," Ackerman said. "We should not be surprised when a dysfunctional system produces dysfunctional results."
Snowe is abandoning the Senate in a mild crusade against the venom that has sapped Congress, Washington and campaigns since President Obama was elected. As one of the more prominent senators who gravitate toward the center -- on economic matters she normally sided with the GOP, but as a Mainer she shared more liberal New England social values -- Snowe even earned a goodbye statement from President Obama.
The next day, in her first interview since her announcement, she used the same term Ackerman did to describe Congress.
"It's dysfunctional, and the political paralysis has overtaken the environment," Snowe said on MSNBC.
Americans Elect is trying to change the presidential process by letting Americans vote online to nominate a presidential candidate, rather than playing through the Democratic and Republican parties' primaries and caucuses. The group's founders argue that Americans continually say they want to see a new candidate in the race, suggesting that a popular (and yet-to-be-vetted) selection would embrace the ideas of the center, rather than the left or the right.
Snowe would fit that bill snugly, and it's unclear what she wants to do now. Her office didn't respond to interview requests, and the only hint she offered in her interview on MSNBC was that she wants to "pursue other opportunities outside the Senate, that perhaps I could give voice to the frustrations that, you know, exist."
In another interview with CBS News, Snowe was asked about running in a third party and said she has "no plans in that regard.
"It's, you know, an empty page right now," she said.
Ackerman acknowledged that Snowe would be an ideal candidate for Americans Elect -- a successful senator with a record of working with both parties. While she was a reliable Republican vote, she helped "ObamaCare" become law by voting for it while the legislation was being debated in congressional committees.
Snowe hasn't contacted Americans Elect, Ackerman said.
"The larger question that we need to be asking as a people is, when our senators -- one or 100 -- are leaving, and when they're walking out the door their message is the Senate doesn't work, I think that should be a moment for us to take pause," he said. "When someone serves three terms, walks out and that's the last thing on their lips, this isn't working."
Snowe is scheduled to take questions from reporters in Maine on Friday. Mark Brewer, a political analyst at the University of Maine, said he hopes that Snowe is asked about her ambitions and whether Americans Elect is a friendly frontier for her now that she's leaving Congress.
"She's 65, but in American politics, that's not senior citizen territory," Brewer said. "Her career in public life fits what this group says it's after in terms of public officials. So the match would be there."
After a candidate is nominated through Americans Elect's online voting "convention" in June, the winner must pick a running mate from a different party. Were Snowe to embrace a third-party candidacy and win, a few names come to mind to balance the bottom of the ticket -- moderate, male Democrats like Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., or former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
Third-party candidacies have traditionally been hampered by efforts to get the candidate's name on the ballot in every state, but Americans Elect has taken care of that by laying the groundwork for the eventual nominee. Ackerman said he has no doubt that every state will put the group's candidate on the ballot in November.
And he added, matter-of-factly, that the group would obviously welcome an endorsement from Snowe.
"This is a new chapter in my life," Snowe said in her TV interview. "I decided that if I was going to do something different, it had to be in this moment in time, so I'm going to be giving my voice to what should change here in the United States Senate."