Perhaps until right now, it had been a foregone conclusion that Maine’s Independent former governor Angus King was the prohibitive favorite to replace the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). After the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and other outside advocacy organizations unleashed heavy anti-King media spending, however, the former two-term state chief executive’s polling numbers have come back to earth. And, in a three-way race where the majority of voters will likely vote for someone other than the eventual winner, virtually anything can happen.
The race pits King against GOP Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill. King, who champions liberal causes as indicated by his support from the trial lawyers PAC, the Council for a Livable World, and Google PAC, is portraying himself as an independent moderate, even going so far as having actor Sam Waterston appear in a television commercial to echo his campaign theme.
A new GS Strategy Group survey conducted for the NRSC shows King’s lead diminishing severely. Though he continues to place first, his margin is now only 37-33-17 percent over Summers and Dill. In another poll released to MaineToday Media on Sept. 20, King leads 50-28-12 percent. But, driving below the original ballot test numbers for that particular survey, the King supporters who say they are definitely voting for him register only 32 percent.
Maine has a penchant for electing candidates who don’t belong to either major political party. In addition to King, Independent Jim Longley was elected governor in 1974. Two years ago, Independent Eliot Cutler finished a strong second to Republican Paul LePage, losing by less than two points. It is the latter election that Charlie Summers is hoping to emulate. Assuming he holds the base Republican vote of 37-39 percent, Democrat Dill topping 20 percent would give him a chance to slip past King. This would be virtually identical to the vote dispersion that elected LePage.
The Maine Senate race is an interesting one, because if President Obama is re-elected and the Republicans hit 50 in the Senate, both of which are quite possible, it would be King alone who would decide which party would assume majority control. Most believe that he will caucus with the Democrats, which is most likely, but stressing his independence certainly makes it more difficult for him to immediately fall into the Democratic fold. Even his slogan, “… as Independent as Maine,” stresses that Mr. King is not inclined to easily conform to Washington’s over-heated partisan divisions.
The Chamber of Commerce has run a series of ads playing upon King’s name, referring to him as “the King of spending” during his tenure as governor. The claim that he over-spent and then left the state with a huge deficit is resonating in this political climate and is a probable reason for King’s decline. The former governor retorts that he cut taxes, improved education, and protected Maine’s open space.
But the more intriguing part of the campaign revolves around Dill. She has little in the way of campaign funding, so outside organizations are trying to improve her standing. The NRSC, in a negative way, but designed to improve her standing among Democrats, is illustrating that she is even more liberal than King. Meanwhile, outside groups are driving home the message that King is flawed and Dill is the preferred progressive candidate.
The dynamics of the Maine Senate race are the most unusual in the nation, and much more is potentially riding upon the election outcome than who represents the state in Washington. Under the proper circumstances, the entire Senate majority may rest upon this one campaign.