Nearly two years before the election, Angus King has announced his intention to run for another six-year U.S. Senate term in 2024.

Yes, it’s unusual to make even an informal announcement so early, but a certain ex-president keeps pushing the process. Should King have any doubts, there’s plenty of time to change his mind.

Senators Susan Collins and Angus King Brianna Soukup and Gregory Rec/Staff Photographers

I don’t sense that he will. Despite having vowed that — after returning to politics a decade after he finished two terms as governor in 2002 — he’d serve only two Senate terms, much has changed.

Susan Collins also pledged, seemingly iron-clad, that she’d only serve two terms, when first elected in 1996. That was the height of the referendum drives for term limits, created for the Maine Legislature, and which would have applied to congressional elections had the U.S. Supreme Court not struck them down.

Collins has been reelected three more times and, still relatively youthful at 69, no one’s assuming she’ll retire when her current term expires in 2026 — though with the backlash from her Supreme Court nomination votes, some questioned the wisdom of her running for a then-record fifth term.

With King, it’s different. His original intention was based on the idea that, at age 80, it would be time to return home to Brunswick.


And at 78, I’m told he’s still fit, mentally and physically, and is enjoying the Senate more now that he’s part of a governing majority getting things done. Though always elected as an independent, in Washington King is functionally a Democrat, just like Bernie Sanders.

Talking with those close to King, including some with reservations about a third term, it’s evident he sees this as a historic moment, when those who love their country — and fully understand its traditions — are called on to re-up.

King’s speeches during the two Trump impeachment trials, and after January 6, were notable for their sense of history, and, with subdued eloquence, made it clear an entire political party, not just one figure, lacks a firm commitment to constitutional norms.

He believes that those who’ve experienced obstruction and gridlock, followed by attempted insurrection, may be essential to creating a post-January 6 consensus. One wonders, though.

Vermont’s Patrick Leahy was first elected to the Senate at age 34 in the post-Watergate election of 1974. He beat a favored Republican, then won term after term. When he reached his eighth, in 2016, he cited the fact that retiring Democrats had created openings for Republicans in 2014, when they took the Senate majority.

This was hardly plausible; just about any Democratic nominee would win election in this once-Republican state, and Peter Welch, the lone Congressman, waited another six years to get his chance. He’ll be a freshman senator in January at age 75, after serving eight House terms.


Only time will tell whether Bernie Sanders, 81, will follow Leahy’s lead and retire, or run for a fourth Senate term after eight House terms. Opportunities for Senate seats are even rarer in Vermont than in Maine.

We’ve reached a point where age is less of a factor with candidates, and seemingly with voters, than it once was. Margaret Chase Smith lost her Senate seat in 1972, a shocking upset by Bill Hathaway, when her age — 74 — was seen as a major factor.

Sen. Charles Grassley from Iowa was just reelected at age 88. Diane Feinstein, from California, ran for reelection in 2018 at age 84 and is still mum about 2024 plans — though her apparent cognitive decline points toward retirement.

And, most consequentially, the current leading contenders for president will be, respectively, 82 and 78.

There’s more to it than “80 is the new 70,” as some baby boomers say; we’re talking about pre-boomers.

The framers of the Constitution rejected term limits but counted on “rotation in office,” the gradual replacement of elected officials through voluntary retirement or defeat at the polls.


Those who are elected and assume power are not exempt from Lord Acton’s doctrine that “Power tends to corrupt.” So far we’ve escaped the second part, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Americans have seen the results of absolute power in large nations like Russia and China, and countless small ones. Thus far, we’ve drawn back from the brink of entrusting power without limits.

Doubtless Sen. King will be a strong candidate for reelection; in 2018, he got a clear majority, avoiding a ranked-choice runoff.

Still, no one is irreplaceable, and at some point a new generation will rise. Let’s hope they won’t already be in their 70s.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books, and is now researching the life and career of a U.S. Chief Justice. He welcomes comment at [email protected]



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