Maine GOP out to sub­vert King

Ex-gov­er­nor in in­de­pen­dent Se­nate bid called closet Demo­crat

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

Maine Democrats are strug­gling to find a strong con­tender to chal­lenge for the Se­nate seat be­ing va­cated by re­tir­ing Re­pub­li­can Olympia J. Snowe, but both par­ties may find their picks over­shad­owed by the in­de­pen­dent can­di­dacy of pop­u­lar for­mer Gov. An­gus King.

With sev­eral high-pro­file Democrats de­cid­ing not to run, and as Mrs. Snowe’s decision last month not to seek re-elec­tion left Repub­li­cans lit­tle time to find re­place­ment can­di­dates, Mr. King has emerged as the fa­vorite in the race.

“I’ve seen some peo­ple say [Mr. King’s] in­evitable, and I wouldn’t go that far, be­cause the Repub­li­cans have some rel­a­tively at­trac­tive peo­ple” run­ning, Univer­sity of Maine po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Mark Brewer said.

“That be­ing said, King’s clearly the front-run­ner, and who­ever the nom­i­nee is . . . both the Democrats and Repub­li­cans are go­ing to have a re­ally dif­fi­cult uphill slog to try to take this away from him.”

Last Thurs­day’s fil­ing dead­line in Maine for par­ti­san Se­nate can­di­dates passed with three key po­ten­tial Democrats sit­ting out the race: Reps. Chel­lie Pin­gree and Mike Michaud, and for­mer Gov. John Bal­dacci, who suc­ceeded Mr. King.

Mr. Michaud made his decision be­fore Mr. King an­nounced he would get into the race, while Mrs. Pin­gree and Mr. Bal­dacci said no only af­ter Mr. King launched his cam­paign. While each would’ve made a strong push to win the seat with­out the for­mer gov­er­nor in the race, a King can­di­dacy would’ve sig­nif­i­cantly hurt their chances, po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say.

“For Chel­lie and for all the other peo­ple who de­cided not to get in on this af­ter King made his an­nounce­ment, it was just sort of a cold po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion; they looked at the num­bers and said this is go­ing to be a tough one to win,” Mr. Brewer said.

Four Democrats turned in the re­quired 2,000 sig­na­tures by Thurs­day’s fil­ing dead­line to run: for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Matt Dun­lap, state Sen. Cyn­thia Dill, state Rep. Jon Hinck and Ben­jamin Pol­lard.

On the Re­pub­li­can side, six have qual­i­fied: Sec­re­tary of State Char­lie Sum­mers, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Sch­nei­der, state Trea­surer Bruce Poliquin, state Sen. De­bra Plow­man, for­mer Maine Se­nate Pres­i­dent Richard Ben­nett and Scott D’am­boise.

Mr. Sum­mers and Mr. Dun­lap, boosted by their ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing in statewide of­fice, have the in­side tracks to win their June 12 pri­maries, many po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say. But the crowded GOP pri­mary is more dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, with Mr. Sch­nei­der ex­pected to make a strong run. Mr. Poliquin also could be a threat, though he has been dogged by an ethics vi­o­la­tion re­gard­ing a tax is­sue.

But Mr. King has the early mo­men­tum, boosted by his rep­u­ta­tion for ris­ing above par­ti­san fray while serv­ing as an in­de­pen­dent gov­er­nor from 1995 to 2003 — a plus in a state with a his­tory of mod­er­ate pol­i­tics and suc­cess­ful in­de­pen­dent can­di­da­cies.

“Even though he hasn’t been in of­fice for a num­ber of years, he con­tin­ues to be viewed very pos­i­tively by a lot of peo­ple in Maine, and [his can­di­dacy] just made it very, very dif­fi­cult, I think, for any of these other po­ten­tial top-tier can­di­dates to make that race,” Mr. Brewer said.

Mr. King’s can­di­dacy could set up a sce­nario sim­i­lar to Maine’s 2010 gu­ber­na­to­rial race in which in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Eliot Cut­ler won many Demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent votes while grab­bing more than 36 per­cent of the elec­tion tally.

Mr. Cut­ler’s pres­ence in the race has been cred­ited for en­abling tea party-backed Re­pub­li­can Paul Lepage to win with only 38 per­cent of the vote. Demo­crat Libby Mitchell gar­nered only 19 per­cent.

“In re­gards to the iden­tity of the [Maine Demo­cratic Party], we’re still sort of wait­ing for the dust to clear,” said Ron­ald Sch­midt Jr., a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South­ern Maine.

“There is a lot of anx­i­ety here that [Demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers] could again split the vote be­tween a Demo­cratic can­di­date and [Mr. King], re­sult­ing in a pos­si­bly a mi­nor­ity can­di­date win­ning the seat.”

Mrs. Snowe’s decision to re­tire deals a blow to the Re­pub­li­can Party’s push to pick up the four seats its needs to take con­trol of the Se­nate. But if the GOP pri­mary pro­duces a strong can­di­date, ex­pect the na­tional Re­pub­li­can Party to pour cash into the race.

The GOP al­ready is try­ing to por­tray Mr. King as a closet Demo­crat.

The Na­tional Re­pub­li­can Se­na­to­rial Com­mit­tee — the fundrais­ing arm of Se­nate Repub­li­cans — has ac­cused Mr. King of mak­ing a se­cret pact to cau­cus with Democrats if elected in ex­change for the party agree­ing not to run high-pro­file can­di­dates in the race.

Mr. King called the ac­cu­sa­tion “com­plete bunk” and a “to­tal fabrication.”

John Baugh­man, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Maine’s Bates Col­lege, said he doesn’t find the ac­cu­sa­tion cred­i­ble, but added that prov­ing it true likely wasn’t the GOP’S aim.

“That’s what [Repub­li­cans] have to do be­cause they’d like to turn this into a race of Democrats vs. Repub­li­cans,” he said.

“They al­ready have a lit­tle trou­ble against [Mr. King], but they’d have a lot of trou­ble if it looks like they’re run­ning against an in­de­pen­dent. But if they call him a Demo­crat and con­vince vot­ers he’s a Demo­crat, it at least gives them an out­side shot of hold­ing the seat.”

Guess­ing his po­lit­i­cal lean­ings isn’t easy. As gov­er­nor he was a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive, but was more lib­eral on so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. And while he is back­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­elec­tion bid, he en­dorsed Re­pub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush’s suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2000.

Mr. King has said he hasn’t de­cided which party he would cau­cus with should he win the seat, and even has sug­gested he wouldn’t side with ei­ther.

“He’ll hold out as long as he can be­fore com­mit­ting, but I don’t think there’s much ques­tion that in the end he’ll cau­cus with the Democrats,” Mr. Baugh­man said. “He has to choose some­body. He can’t get a good com­mit­tee as­sign­ment, for ex­am­ple, with­out decision on which party you’re go­ing to cau­cus with.”

Mr. Brewer spec­u­lated that Mr. King could wait to see which party has con­trol of the Se­nate af­ter the Novem­ber elec­tions be­fore pick­ing his team. But he agreed that re­main­ing out­side of a par­ti­san cau­cus isn’t re­al­is­tic.

“He can’t be a cau­cus of one. He’s got to cau­cus with some­body,” he said.

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