Washington (AP) - Forget Sarah Palin. The maverick female of the Republican Party is Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe.
The 62-year-old, moderate Maine lawmaker announced Tuesday she will vote for a Democratic health care bill, breaking with her party and giving a major boost to President Barack Obama's goal of expanding coverage.
"When history calls, history calls," Snowe told her colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee, several hours into the debate.
Snowe had kept virtually all of Washington guessing how she would vote. She had not even let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in on her secret.
Then she captured all of Washington's attention.
"The status quo approach has produced one glaring common denominator, that is that we have a problem that is growing worse not better," she said in explaining her support for the bill.
While she described the legislation as flawed, she said it bolsters what works in the nation's health care system as well as trying to rein in the rising costs of health care.
Democrats, aware that Snowe could be the only Republican in Congress to vote for their health care overhaul, have spent months addressing her concerns about making it affordable and how to pay for it. Obama has sought her vote in phone calls and meetings.
Snowe made clear to her Democratic colleagues that her support could be a one-shot deal.
"My vote today is my vote today. It does not forecast my vote tomorrow," she said.
With her support, however, Democrats might have the 60th vote required to overcome Republican objections to the bill. Snowe's support would mean that the final version of the bill could - technically - be called bipartisan, a key tenet of Obama's agenda.
Snowe has broken with her party on several occasions.
Earlier this year, she was one of three Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus bill. Before that, she defied then-President George W. Bush and voted for legislation he eventually vetoed - but that later passed under Obama - providing health care to millions of children.
Snowe also was one of the "Gang of 14" Democratic and Republican senators who resolved a standoff over judicial nominations.
In Maine, former Gov. Angus King, a political independent, compared Snowe's decision to the late Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith's "Declaration of Conscience" speech in which she called for the nation - and her own party - to reject McCarthyism.
"This is a vote of conscience and a vote of concern for her constituents and concern for the country. And I think it took plenty of courage. I don't think it's possible for any of us to fully appreciate the pressure she's under and has been under to vote with her Republican colleagues," King said. "The fact that she was willing to split with them, I think, is a real testament to her integrity."
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.
Forget Sarah Palin. The maverick female of the Republican Party is Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe.