The national committee that’s working to elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. Senate will soon air more than $400,000 worth of television ads in Maine.

The ads may ultimately help independent candidate Angus King more than Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee confirmed Friday that it has purchased $410,000 worth of air time on Maine television stations. The ads will air from Tuesday until Oct. 12.

The decision by national Democrats to get involved in Maine illustrates the high stakes the two political parties see in the race for the seat now occupied by Republican Olympia Snowe.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s ad buys were confirmed by WGME-TV, the CBS affiliate in Portland. A representative from WCSH-TV, Portland’s NBC affiliate, couldn’t confirm the purchase.

Records from WGME, Channel 13, indicate that the ad will air 97 times.

The ad buy is a tricky endeavor for national Democrats, who have so far stayed out of the race and deferred to King, the two-term governor who is the front-runner in the polls.

High-profile Democratic candidates stayed out of the race because of concerns that dividing the Democratic and independent votes would throw the election to Republican Charlie Summers, who has been second in the polls.

Asked to comment on the ads late Friday, King’s campaign sought to distance itself from them.

“This is a decision made by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,” said a statement released by the campaign. “I am running as an independent and we are going to continue to work on the important issues facing our state and our nation. As I said the night I announced, no one is going to tell me how to vote except the people of Maine.”

Recent polls have shown King’s once commanding lead shrinking, with Summers getting closer. While most political pundits believe he is still in control of the race, King has been hammered by more than $2 million worth of ads by national Republican groups.

The King campaign has struggled to respond effectively.

Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a written statement that the ad buy is designed to check Republican extremism.

“When Republican extremism forced Olympia Snowe to retire from the Senate, it presented a significant challenge to Mitch McConnell and the Republicans,” Cecil said. “Republican special interests have now spent $2 million boosting a candidate who is fundamentally out of step with the state.”

Cecil said Summers “is an anti-choice Tea Partier, who supports eliminating the Department of Education, privatizing Social Security, protecting tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and ending Medicare as we know it. Charlie Summers should not be in the United States Senate and it is time every Mainer knows it.”

Michael Cuzzi, a former Democratic campaign strategist who manages the Portland branch of VOX Global, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, said the Democratic ad buy could double as “overture” to King.

“With control of the Senate incredibly close, the DSCC is hedging its bets and making an overture to King with a comparatively small investment in Maine’s inexpensive media market,” said Cuzzi, who writes a periodic column for the Maine Sunday Telegram. “The buy will help ease King over the finish line and undoubtedly comes with the hope that he could support a Democratic agenda in a closely divided Senate.”

Summers’ campaign said the new ad buy shows that his campaign is gaining traction.

“This only confirms what we already knew: Charlie’s message of low taxes, less spending and balanced budgets is resonating with Mainers, and this race is only going to get tighter,” said Drew Brandewie, a spokesman for Summers.

Dill’s campaign spokeswoman, Jeannine Guttman, said Dill doesn’t want to comment on the ads until she sees them.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has been airing ads in Maine, said the Democratic intervention shows that King and the Democrats are in cahoots.

“It’s remarkable to see national Democrats now spending money in a state where they refuse to even endorse their own nominee,” said Rob Jesmer, the group’s executive director. “Now that they are spending almost a half-million dollars in Maine, the DSCC should make clear who they are supporting — the Democratic nominee or the candidate that the state Democratic Party Chairman said today cannot be trusted.”

Jesmer’s reference was to Ben Grant, who wrote an opinion piece in Friday’s Portland Press Herald that hit back against suggestions that Dill should bow out of the race.

Dill has publicly criticized the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for not doing more to support her candidacy.

Grant criticized the effectiveness of King’s campaign, his nebulous policy platform and his unwillingness to say which party he will caucus with if elected.

“So, when I — and many Democrats — look at Eliot Cutler or Angus King, we have to decide if they share enough of our values to make them a better alternative to the Republicans,” Grant wrote.

– Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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