BRUNSWICK — U.S. Sen. Angus King officially launched his re-election campaign Thursday, saying “this is not a time to walk away from the United States government.”

Six years after first running for Senate in hopes of helping bridge the partisan divide, King acknowledged the ongoing gridlock in Washington. But the independent said he has accomplished goals by building strong relationships on both sides of the aisle and that the atmosphere in D.C. is not as dire as it seems in the news.

“It’s not back to what it was in the ’70s, it’s not what it should be,” King told a crowd of supporters and staffers gathered in Brunswick. “But I can tell you there are little, tender shoots of bipartisan cooperation and that is what we are trying to encourage.”

King was first elected in 2012 after Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe opted not to seek another term because of the increasingly toxic environment in Congress. A former two-term governor of Maine, King caucuses with the Democrats but is one of two independents in the Senate.

King has maintained a high profile for a freshman lawmaker, in part because of his position as an independent in the closely divided Senate and because of his seats on closely watched committees. His seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in particular, means that King and fellow committee member Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins are heavily involved in the classified review of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“There is so much left to be done,” King said, answering his own question of why he planned to run again. “And the second (reason) is this is not a time to walk away from the United States government. This is a time when we need to continue to try to talk to people, to maintain civil discourse, to try to solve problems and to try to sort of calm some of the rhetoric that passes for political discourse in this country.”

King launched his re-election campaign near his Brunswick home during an event filled with both longtime staffers and friends as well as young, college-aged supporters.

He is expected to face off in November against Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein but is widely considered the favorite, given his statewide name recognition and strong approval ratings. A second Republican candidate, Max Linn, did not qualify for the June 12 primary ballot but continues to campaign despite election officials warning that votes for him will not count.

As in his previous campaign, King’s banners, signs and bumper stickers read simply “Angus – Independent for U.S. Senate” and his address was a mix of policy priorities, light-hearted anecdotes and quotes from Abraham Lincoln.

If re-elected, King said, his priorities would include expanding broadband access in Maine, tackling the opioid crisis, supporting veterans, addressing Maine’s workforce needs and focusing on health care access and costs. He touted his votes to oppose Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and pledged to resist any effort to privatize health care services delivered to veterans.

As in 2012, the Maine Democratic Party is not expected to campaign heavily against King. The Republican Party, meanwhile, sought to paint King as a closet Democrat while saying that “standing up for the working people of Maine is in Eric Brakey’s DNA.”

“On issue after issue, Angus King votes the way (New York Sen.) Chuck Schumer and (California Rep.) Nancy Pelosi want him to,” Maine Republican Party Chair Dr. Demi Kouzounas said in a statement. “The issue here is Angus King’s destructive liberal tendencies and his authenticity. He has been pretending to be something he is not for so long that he has lost touch with the needs of Maine people. Angus King is no independent – not even close. He plays an independent in election year sound bites and TV ads, but still votes like an elite California liberal in the Senate.”

Asked about the anticipated Republican attacks on his political leanings, King said he finds that being an independent is “a valuable place to be in Washington” and that Republicans know they can work with him.

“I had to choose which side to caucus with but caucusing doesn’t mean I’ve joined the Democratic Party. I didn’t have to sign an oath or anything,” King told reporters after the Brunswick event. “Almost every bill that I work on is bipartisan because that’s the only way things are going to get done.”

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