Maine’s Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won an endorsement Friday from independent Sen. Angus King, support she warmly welcomed but did not request and may not need in her run for a fourth term.

With Collins holding a dominant lead in fundraising and polling over Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows, the focus shifted to King, who continues to brandish his independent credentials. The endorsement was his first as a member of Congress. It took just a few hours for the Brunswick resident to make his second.

Within hours of praising Collins as a “model senator” during a press event at the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, King went to Concord, New Hampshire, to endorse U.S. Sen. Jean Shaheen, a Democrat whose three terms as governor overlapped with King’s two terms as Maine’s governor.

The mini-endorsement tour is likely to spur scrutiny of King’s political positioning as the congressional mid-term elections loom.

Early national tracking polls show that Republicans have a decent chance of taking control of the Senate. King, who caucuses with Democrats, touched off a wave of speculation in April when he suggested to the Washington-based publication The Hill that he might caucus with Republicans if they win the majority in November.

Asked Friday about joining the Republicans, King repeated earlier statements that he would base his decision on the best interest of Mainers.

But his endorsement of Shaheen is likely to counter claims that King is poised to change caucuses.

Bellows would not say that King’s endorsement of her opponent was a deliberate political calculation, but she repeatedly alluded to the prospect of a Republican takeover in the Senate.

“Angus called me (Thursday) night and told me it wasn’t personal,” Bellows said. “I agree with him. These decisions about who to endorse, who to vote for aren’t personal. … I think who to support in the U.S. Senate is about much more than either of us. It’s about the party that will be in control in the Senate and the future of our country.”

King said all the speculation is misguided.

“They’re overthinking it,” he said. “There’s no deep personal motive here. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said King’s endorsement of Collins made sense, given that the two Maine senators have a well-established working relationship. Sabato said both will benefit from Friday’s announcement.

“Collins is bound to win, but I’m sure she welcomed the endorsement because she is literally the only Republican (running for re-election) in a state President Obama won,” Sabato said. “I don’t think she has any problems at all anyway, but it’s always nice to have that added security.”

Collins and King differ on a number of issues, particularly the Affordable Care Act, but they have forged a working relationship and their political offices often send joint statements. The senators created a “Gang of 14” to address the government shutdown last year and worked together on a student loan bill. They also joined forces to ensure that the Navy agreed to build an extra destroyer at Bath Iron Works, one of Maine’s largest employers.

King praised Collins on Friday for her work ethic, intelligence and integrity. “She always puts Maine and the country first and isn’t afraid to cross party lines to get things done,” he said.

Collins said she was “delighted and honored” to have King’s backing, even though she didn’t ask for it.

She said King recently came to her Senate office after a long day of hearings on the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which the two serve, to offer his endorsement.

King told the Portland Press Herald that he made similar offers to other members of Congress. He would not say whom. He also declined to say whether he would make an endorsement in Maine’s gubernatorial race. 

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler