Angus King admits he does not drink wine, nor does he know what Brie is. But stepping off his motorcycle for breakfast at a Fort Kent diner last Monday, Maine’s independent Senate candidate shared his interests with the people of his state–he bowls every Thursday, goes RVing with his family, and has a penchant for American history.
King held Maine’s highest executive office for eight years, serving as governor from 1995 to 2003. And in that time, he gained a reputation as a popular exception to partisan politics. He won a three-way 1998 re-election race with 59 percent of the vote. And now in the wake of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe’s retirement, King’s independent push to succeed her is well underway. While he remains inspired by Democrats and Republicans alike–his campaign office features adjacent photographs of Ronald Reagan and Robert F. Kennedy–his vied homecoming to statewide office once again stands without party affiliation.
Maine was once the state of unabashed Senator Margaret Chase Smith, whose 1950 “Declaration of Conscience“ criticized Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. The mountainous waterside state has also been immortalized by literary greats like Kenneth Roberts and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and by painter Winslow Homer. But since the Tea Party garnered nationwide enthusiasm two years ago, Maine’s political distinctiveness has significantly declined. Republican Governor Paul LePage just barely won election in 2010, receiving only a 39 percent plurality. He has lambasted public sector unions, questioned the sanity of transgender Americans, and once told the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”
King claims to be “too fiscally conservative for the Democrats and too socially liberal for the Republicans, like 75 percent of the American people.” He supports the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. His campaign endorsements and donations cross party lines, from supporting George W. Bush in 2000 to donating over $4000 to Barack Obama. King vows to fight for the auto industry, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, and hopes to decrease overseas military action.
King’s message is working so far. He has support from 50 percent of likely voters, according to a June poll from Boston public radio station WBUR. Republican Senate nominee Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill trail King with 23 percent and 9 percent of votes, respectively.
After serving the U.S. Senate as a Republican for 18 years, Connecticut’s Lowell Weicker successfully ran for governor as an Independent. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette late last month:
This is no lightweight. He knows that being a Republican now is dicey at best and being a Democrat isn’t much better. This is an ideal time to be an Independent. The whole country is bloody well fed up with both parties.
But King still faces a long journey. The last time he campaigned for political office nearly a decade-and-a-half ago, words like “super-PAC” and “tweet” had not yet entered the public vernacular. And he also faces an apprehensive Democratic Party, largely worried that splitting the socially liberal vote between him and Dill will eliminate the current 4-seat Senate majority over the Republicans.
Neither the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, nor Senate Majority Harry Reid seem to mind. They defend King as not only a frontrunner, but also one likely to caucus with Democrats if elected. While independent Senators are not required to team with a particular party, King has openly considered doing so, as it would likely help him gain influence among Capitol Hill committees:
If the rules are such that I have to make some commitment to one or the other of the caucuses in order to have a committee assignment, then I’ll do it, because it wouldn’t be fair to Maine to go down there and not be a fully effective, functioning senator.
Maine State Senator Stan Gerzofsky, a Democrat, served in the state’s House of Representatives while King was governor and sees King as the man to beat:
He brings an awful lot to the table. He was a very popular governor. As an independent in these times, I think he makes a very strong statement.