Had enough already of the race to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate?

Put yourself in John Laban’s place.

“If I get into Augusta, it seems to crop up a bit more,” Laban, who hails from Bethel, said in a recent interview.

“It” is Laban’s separated-at-birth resemblance to Angus King, the former two-term governor now leading the pack in his bid to become Maine’s next senator. A resemblance so striking that, well, consider what happened one day outside Mister Bagel in Augusta.

Laban had just emerged from his car when a woman walking by stopped dead in her tracks.

“You’re –” she said, reaching for the name.

“No, I’m not,” Laban quickly replied.

“Yes you are!” the woman insisted.

“No, I’m not!” Laban insisted right back.

“Yes you are!” she pronounced once and for all. “You can’t fool me!”

Laban chuckles at the memory.

“I finally just sort of backed off,” he said. “I mean what could I do?”

What can he do? A dead ringer for the hands-down favorite in one of the nation’s most watched Senate races? The mind boggles.

Laban, 71, is a retired forester, now a property manager for a condominium complex in Bethel. He came to Maine from Massachusetts 40 years ago to attend the University of Maine and, as he puts it, never went back.

King, 68, arrived around the same time from Virginia, starting out as a lawyer and as a part-time TV host for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network before making a bundle in the energy conservation business.

But it wasn’t until 1994, when King launched his first independent bid for governor, that Laban’s wife, Rosemary, turned to her husband one day and said, “Boy, you look a lot like him.”

“I could see the resemblance,” admitted Laban.

Throughout King’s eight-year tenure, Laban did his best to go about his business — considering he spent a lot of time in the woods, it could have been worse.

Nor was it that big a deal in Bethel, where Laban’s fellow townsfolk grew accustomed over time to seeing Maine’s almost-chief executive in the grocery line or the hardware store.

(That said, it couldn’t have been easy when the local powers that be decided in 1999 to build the world’s tallest snowman right smack in the middle of Bethel village and name it Angus, King of the Mountain.)

Still, whenever Laban ventured far from his neck of the woods, he was downright gubernatorial.

One night in Portland, Laban and his wife took their place at the end of a long line snaking out of Walter’s Restaurant, then on Exchange Street.

“There must have been a dozen people in line,” he recalled. “And the fellow that was seating people, the maitre d’, just looked past all of them and said, ‘Yes sir, come right with me, please.'”

The Labans, not exactly sure what the guy wanted, walked to the front of the line.

“Just follow me, sir,” said the maitre d’, turning on his heel. “We have a table set aside.”

The next thing Laban knew, he and the missus were looking out onto Exchange Street from their second-floor window table.

“Nothing more was said. That was it,” said Laban. “But it was quite obvious that he thought I was somebody I wasn’t.”

And Laban didn’t set record straight?

“Oh, no,” he said. “I thought it was terrific.”

King left office in 2003 and things gradually settled down for Laban. Until now.

Last month, well aware that he’d never actually come face to face with his celebrity doppelganger, Laban heard that King was coming through town on a motorcycle tour and decided it was high time they met. He took his place in line to shake the candidate’s hand and, you guessed it …

As the Bethel Citizen would later report, a campaign aide stepped up, asked Laban’s name and quickly ushered him to the head of the line.

The first words out of King’s slack-jawed mouth: “How would you like to step in and do a couple of parades for me?”

Which, when you think about it, opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Can’t decide whether to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans on Capitol Hill? Then do both!

Or what about the campaign trail this fall? Isn’t it at least a little tempting for Laban to go a little rogue as the not-quite Angus King?

“It is,” Laban laughed. “But you can come out on the wrong side of those things pretty quickly.”

Besides, the man who mirrors Angus King also happens to support him.

“I think he did a good job as governor,” said Laban. “And I think he’s a consensus-building type of guy, which is what I would like to see.”

Laban, for the record, isn’t the first King clone to come down the pike. Back in May, National Public Radio referred to King as “a Ted Turner look-alike with a polished television presence.”

And many in King’s camp, according to spokeswoman Crystal Canney, have long suspected that King and WCSH-TV’s Bill Green share a few DNA strands.

But take away the white moustaches and those guys are just another face in the crowd. Laban, on the other hand, could sign Angus on an autograph pad and no one would be the wiser.

So here John Laban goes again. If the pundits are correct, it’s all but certain he’ll spend the next six-plus years being mistaken for perhaps the most pivotal man in the U.S. Senate.

Thoughts?

“Nobody’s bought me a meal yet,” said Laban. “I figure that’s the next step.”

Bill Nemitz — 791-6323

[email protected]

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