As I mentioned a week ago, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced her surprise decision not to seek a fourth term that she could easily have won, the open Senate seat in Maine gave the Dems a potentially important opportunity for a pickup, which they could need badly to hang onto their slim Senate majority.
Popular Dem. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree seemed likely to offer herself for that role. But then former Gov. Angus King announced that he would run. King is a political independent, a long-time advocate of green energy, and was elected governor in 1994. (For a while, King and our own Jesse Ventura were the only two non-Dem, non-Repub governors in the nation, but Ventura actually ran on the Reform Party ticket, while King had no party label at all.)
But while Ventura retired rather than face what would have been a longshot reelection campaign, King’s independent ways were so popular with (insert stereotypical adjective for independent cusses here) Mainers that he won a second term by an astonishing 59 percent of the vote, holding both the Dem and Repub under 20. Yes, you read that right.
Since leaving office, King took his wife and kids on a motor-home tour of the country, stayed active in green energy matters and taught some college courses on leadership.
King is a real independent. He supported George W. Bush for president in 2000, but then supported Bush’s opponent John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Maine is a funny state politically. It currently has two Repub senators (but both notorious moderates) and a Repub governor who was elected in a three-way race (with Tea Party support and, once again, the Dem nominee got less than 20 percent). But both of Maine’s congresspersons are Dems, Maine went for Obama in 2008 by a crushing 58-41 and the Dems have carried the state for the last six races presidential races.
Now King, who will turn 68 this month, is offering himself as a Senate candidate and frankly, it looks like a gimme, especially in light of the latest development. King has enormous favorable ratings with both Dems and Repubs but frankly, Dems like him better.
Before King got in the race, Rep. Pingree looked like the likely Dem nominee and a strong Senate candidate . But, given King’s strong appeal among Dems, she apparently feared that if she ran it would create positive math for the Repubs. So, yesterday, she announced she would seek another House term instead.
As the Washington Post reported this morning, that got the Republicans thinking conspiracies:
“National Republicans, without offering specific proof, responded Wednesday by accusing top Democrats in Washington of pushing aside Pingree… Republicans suspected Democratic leaders may have won some type of assurance from King that he would align himself with the party.”
King’s spokesman denied it, saying he wasn’t sure which party he would caucus with, and might just go back and forth depending on which party he agreed with on particular issues. Dem Senate Leader Harry Reid said that not only has he not talked to King about any deal, he has never talked to anyone named “Rufus.”
Sen. Snowe said in announcing her retirement that she hoped to work toward a more centrist, less hyperpartisanized politics in America. If her retirement results in Angus King going to the Senate, she’s off to a good start.