The big U.S. Senate primary election is over and the majority has spoken. Not the majority of the 11 percent of Maine Democrats or the 13 percent of Maine Republicans who picked state Sen. Cynthia Dill and Secretary of State Charlie Summers to lead their tickets in November.

No, the vast majority of Mainers stayed home Tuesday, speaking in a clear voice about what they thought of the choices provided by Maine’s political parties in 2012.

It didn’t take many votes to win this thing. Dill received about 23,000 votes, roughly equal to the population of South Portland. In his race, Summers got the support of about 20,000, which is similar to the size of Brunswick. It was as if these two Cumberland County towns picked the winners and Maine’s other 496 municipalities just watched.

If this were an ordinary primary, in which an entrenched incumbent faced a long-shot challenger, we would be less surprised by the low turnout. This was a race for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, however, the one place in government where Maine is just as powerful as New York or California when setting the national agenda. It’s been 16 years since we had this opportunity, and you would think that might generate a little more enthusiasm.

This primary, however, was relegated from main attraction to side show by the presence of independent candidate Angus King, whose name did not appear on any ballot on Tuesday. King enters the race better known, better financed and better liked than any of his rivals, which include three other independents.

That doesn’t mean that he is the best person for the job, but it does mean that his opponents are going to have to do a better job speaking to voters and engaging them than they have done during this primary season.

King seized the initiative on Wednesday by challenging his opponents to eliminate the influence of expenditures by outside groups. It was a smart political move that put the other candidates in the position of defunding themselves or defending the use of shadowy out-of-state money.

It’s a deal they should consider, though, especially if they could bargain for a series of public forums with King, where they could explore their personal and policy differences in detail

The November election, with the president and same-sex marriage on the ballot, will not have such light turnout and all the candidates can work now to make sure that the people who vote then will really understand the choice before them.


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