Vowing that “nobody will be able to tell me how to vote but the people of Maine,” former Gov. Angus King Jr. announced Monday night that he will run for the U.S. Senate.
After giving a previously scheduled lecture at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, his hometown, King made the much-anticipated announcement that he will be a candidate for the Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe.
He said that Snowe’s retirement after three terms proves that the two-party system in Washington is broken and electing an independent makes sense.
“Frankly, I think I might scare (the parties), and that would be a good thing,” he told about 200 people in the college’s Moulton Union. He also promised no negative ads in a campaign that will be hard-fought.
King’s candidacy has some Democrats worried that the socially liberal, former two-term governor could take enough votes from the Democratic nominee to throw the election to the GOP.
The race has national significance because a Democratic win in Maine, considered unlikely before Snowe announced last week that she won’t seek a fourth term, could determine whether Democrats keep their majority in the Senate.
King’s decision had been awaited since soon after Snowe’s surprise announcement last Tuesday.
Eliot Cutler, the independent gubernatorial candidate from 2010, considered a run for Senate but backed away Monday and endorsed King, saying in a prepared statement that he “would bring to the Senate the independence, the abilities, the reputation and the disposition that will make him a great senator.”
Multi-candidate primaries remain possible for both parties. It remained unclear Monday who all of those candidates will be.
An aide to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said she is still conidering a run. Pingree’s aide didn’t say how King’s entry into the race affects her thinking.
A longtime Maine Democratic consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Pingree doesn’t run, a major factor will be her concern that she and King could divide the Democratic liberal base and pave the way for a GOP victory.
A Maine Democratic insider who is close to both Pingree and King noted before King’s announcement that the two are close friends. King celebrated Thanksgiving at Pingree’s house in North Haven last fall, at a dinner attended by about 15 to 20 people.
King said in a phone interview Monday that he and Pingree’s friendship dates back three decades, but that “can’t necessarily decide what you are going to do. … Ultimately, you have to do what is right for the country.”
Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, a frequent Democratic donor, is buying a 5 percent equity stake in MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other Maine media outlets.
Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci also is considering the Senate race. His thinking won’t be affected by King’s decision or whether Pingree runs, said his spokesman Dan Cashman.
He said Baldacci will “make the decision based on what he feels is the right thing to do.”
GOP lines up
On the Republican side, a number of potential candidates have taken out papers to circulate nomination petitions.
Maine Attorney General William Schneider said over the weekend that he has decided to seek his party’s nomination.
Other Republicans who are considering a Senate run are Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and former Senate President Rick Bennett.
Also running is Scott D’Amboise, a tea party-affiliated candidate from Lisbon Falls who was challenging Snowe in the GOP primary.
Mark Brewer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine, said King could win as an independent in a three-way race, as he did in Maine’s gubernatorial elections in 1994 and 1998.
“How good his actual chances are will depend on who the major party candidates are, and to a lesser extent on whether or not any other independents throw their hats into the ring,” Brewer said.
Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College, said King is a formidable candidate. And if Pingree doesn’t run, King will be the favorite, an independent who can run to the center and raise enough money to compete with major-party candidates, Maisel said.
But Brent Littlefield, a Republican consultant in Washington who knows Maine well and advises Republican Gov. Paul LePage, said King’s relationship with Democrats “sets up a nice scenario for the Republican candidate” because King will capture Democratic votes regardless of who the party’s nominee is.
King will have to compete financially in a race in which spending is expected to eclipse that for Maine’s U.S. Senate race in 2008, when Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Tom Allen generated a total of about $17.5 million.
One Democratic consultant has said he can envision this year’s candidates spending as much as $30 million in all, especially with a credible independent like King in the race. Millions more would be spent by the national party committees and outside groups.
‘I go in … to win’
King said he doesn’t worry that his candidacy could lead to a Republican win.
“I don’t go into campaigns planning to be a spoiler,” he said in the phone interview. “When I go into a campaign, I go in planning to win.”
He has until June 1 to file 4,000 signatures to get on the November ballot as an independent.
King was governor from 1995 to 2003, winning re-election in 1998 by a wide margin. In his first gubernatorial campaign, in 1994, Collins was the Republican candidate.
King has given nearly $3,000 in campaign contributions to President Barack Obama: $1,750 in 2008, when Obama first ran, and $1,000 last fall, for Obama’s re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization.
King supported Republican George W. Bush for president in 2000, then endorsed Democrat John Kerry in 2004, criticizing Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and the economy, and charging that Bush was too partisan and ideological.
King’s son, Angus King III, worked in the Clinton White House.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that as an independent senator, King would have to pick a party to caucus with if he wanted good committee assignments and maximum influence. Independents Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut now caucus with Democrats.
If King doesn’t caucus with a party, “He’ll just give floor speeches and vote on floor bills,” Sabato said. “King’s views on many issues are much closer to the Democrats, so I would expect him to side with the Dems for organizational purposes if elected.”
King is a co-founder of Independence Wind, a wind energy company that’s involved with the Record Hill Wind project in Oxford County.
He was an attorney and a successful businessman before he was governor, founding an energy efficiency company called Northeast Energy Management. He gained statewide visibility before his election in 1994 as the longtime host of “Maine Watch” on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
As governor, King’s initiatives included an overhaul of the state’s mental health and correctional systems, a push to increase public conservation lands and a drive that provided Apple laptops to every seventh and eighth-grader in the state.
King once said that he was an independent because “I’m too fiscally conservative for the Democrats and too socially liberal for the Republicans, like 75 percent of the American people.”
King will be a formidable candidate, said Democratic state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, who served in the Maine House while King was governor and, like King, is a Brunswick resident.
“He brings an awful lot to the table,” Gerzofsky said. “He was a very popular governor. As an independent in these times, I think he makes a very strong statement.”
Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, was in the state Senate when King was governor.
“He tried to govern from the middle,” Davis said. “As governor, he was a very easy man to like.”
But Davis said King spent a $300 million surplus and ended his term with a deficit. He said that while King talks about addressing the problems that prompted Snowe’s departure, it would be hard for an independent to make a difference in Washington.
“He won’t have a caucus,” he said. “I don’t see how on earth he’ll be able to help with the problems without at least some supporters around him. An independent isn’t going to be able to do it.”
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover contributed to this report.
Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280