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GOP Senators Risk Political Backlash Over Support of Stimulus Bill

Collins/Specter/Snowe

Until Friday, President Obama's plea for bipartisanship support of his costly plan for stimulating the economy mostly had fallen on deaf GOP ears, but that changed when three Republican moderates pledged their support.

In doing so, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter risked drawing the wrath of their fellow Republicans and of some constituents

The trio's support is expected to give Democrats the 60 votes needed in the Senate to advance to a final vote on the $827 billion stimulus bill next week -- and ultimately push the controversial mix of massive spending and tax cuts over the finish line.

Collins said she broke ranks with her party because of the progress congressional negotiators had made on the bill.

"Well, I know that some of my Republican colleagues are unhappy with the position that I've taken," Collins told FOX News on Saturday. "I hope they will look at the fact that we were able to cut $110 billion of unnecessary spending from this bill. I think that's a good accomplishment. I also think that it's important that we do pass a stimulus bill to help turn the economy around."

Snowe has kept a low profile since the deal was struck, while Specter said Friday night that the agreement wasn't perfect but it was necessary.

Not everyone agrees.

Julie Ann O'Brien, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said she already has received plenty of e-mails from people across the country, some praising and some scolding the two Senators for their support of the bill.

"We have heard from both sides," she told FOXNews.com. "We've heard from those who are pleased that Sen. Collins, in particular, has been willing to play and negotiate. And there are others who feel strongly that they are not acting like Republicans are supposed to act."

O'Brien said the majority of the e-mails she's received have been critical of the senators.

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania and the National Republican Committee did not return calls Saturday seeking comment for this story.

O'Brien said she wasn't surprised by Collins' stance.

"She always has voted her conscience," O'Brien said, adding that both senators have independent streaks. "For whatever reason, we have a string of independent thinkers from Maine."

O'Brien doesn't anticipate any local political fallout for the senators, noting that both won't face re-election for several years and that voters are familiar with them.

"People know what they're getting when they vote for them," she said. "They lean conservative on most issues -- that's why they're Republicans. But they really do, I feel, do what is right -- not politically right but morally right."

Specter, on the other hand, is up for re-election in 2010.

Collins didn't rule out the possibility of changing her mind after Senate and House negotiators work out the differences between the bills approved by the two bodies.

"It's important we get this bill to the president's desk as soon as possible," she told FOX News. "But if the bill that comes back to the Senate from the conference committee is once again bloated with wasteful spending and it's too expensive, then I'll vote against it."

She added that she believes the support from her and the other two GOP senators "helps to put pressure on the conference to keep the costs down and to focus on spending and tax relief that will really help create jobs and turn our economy around."