Former Gov. Angus King Jr., on his first full day as a declared candidate for the U.S. Senate, said Tuesday that he would consider dropping out of the race this fall if it appeared that he could not win.
“I am certainly not interested in being a spoiler and changing the dynamics of the race,” the independent candidate said in an interview with The Portland Press Herald. King said he wouldn’t be running if he didn’t think he could win.
Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Tuesday that she might take a few more days to decide whether to run for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.
One factor in Pingree’s decision is whether a three-way general election that includes her and King could split enough Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent votes to throw the race to a Republican.
In an interview, Pingree alluded to Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial race, in which Republican Paul LePage won a close election over independent Eliot Cutler, with Democrat Libby Mitchell finishing third.
“That is the outcome I would not like to see,” Pingree said.
Pingree also said the prospect of giving up her 1st District House seat, which she would be favored to win for a third term, also factors into her decision, now that King is in the race.
Pingree said she has talked about the race with King but they have made no deals.
“People end up deciding whether or not they want to run for office for the reasons that are important to them, and it’s always good to stay in the conversation with people,” she said, “but it doesn’t mean that everyone gets in a back room, smokes some cigars and a deal is cut.”
Pingree was gathering information and awaiting results from a poll that was supposed to be completed Tuesday night by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Her husband, S. Donald Sussman, a frequent Democratic donor, is buying a 5 percent equity stake in MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets.
Former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, also is considering running for the Senate seat.
The leading Republicans in the race appear to be former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett, state Attorney General William Schneider, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden and Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
Party candidates have until March 15 to submit at least 2,000 voter signatures to get on the June 12 primary ballot. Independents have until June 1 to submit at least 4,000 signatures to get on November’s general election ballot.
Snowe, who has held the Senate seat since 1995, surprised the political word last week when she announced that she would not run for re-election. She expressed frustration about working in the Senate, which she said has become dysfunctional because of the polarization of the political parties.
King said Tuesday that he respects Snowe for making that decision. He said Mainers should express their frustration with party politics by sending an independent to Washington.
King would have a clearer path to victory without Pingree in the race. In addition to the political calculation, there is a personal one: King and Pingree are friends. King spent last Thanksgiving with Pingree and her family and close friends at her home in North Haven.
Pingree said her decision won’t be personal because the stakes are too high. The race in Maine could determine whether Democrats hold their majority in the Senate.
“One of the biggest reasons I was thinking about (running) was because the balance of the United States Senate rests on this seat and I think, in a head-to-head, no question about it, I have the best shot of winning. A three-way race just makes that more complicated.”
King said he called Pingree to tell her about his decision to run. He said he also wanted to give a heads-up to Baldacci, who succeeded King as governor, but didn’t know his phone number.
Baldacci lives in the Washington, D.C., area, where he is a consultant for the Pentagon on health care issues. He has said little about the Senate race since taking out nomination papers last week.
King said he would not fund his Senate campaign with his own money. He also said he would wait until he gets to Washington to decide whether to caucus with Democrats or Republicans.
His decision, he said, would be based on “what’s most effective for Maine,” rather than an ideological preference for either party.
Because his campaign is built on the message that political parties are causing gridlock in Washington, it wouldn’t make sense to announce now which party he would caucus with, he said.
King said he expects that both Democrats and Republicans would ask him to join their caucuses. If control of the Senate could be influenced by his decision, he said, he would be in a position of power – “the most popular girl at the prom.”
He said Congress’ 9 percent approval rating illustrates that the public believes the system is broken. “The fact that this institution isn’t working is provoking me to run,” he said.
King portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative who is liberal or moderate on social issues, such as his support for legalizing gay marriage. He said people who believe he is a “secret Democrat” are mistaken, noting that as governor he vetoed far more Democratic bills than Republican bills.
King said he has no money on hand to run a campaign. He said he has no campaign infrastructure, other than his iPhone, which he described as his office.
His former chief of staff, Kay Rand, will run his campaign, he said. Rand managed King’s successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1994 and 1998.
Rand supported the independent Cutler last year in his run for governor.
Since 2004, King has been a distinguished lecturer at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, teaching a course called Leaders and Leadership.
He said he was teaching his class last week about Maine Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, who was a classics professor at Bowdoin and was compelled by his sense of duty to the nation to fight for the Union.
King said his decision to run for the Senate stems from that same sense of obligation to the nation.
On some of the issues, he said he opposes a proposed balanced-budget amendment, calling it a “gimmick” and a “feel-good solution.”
Any efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit must include cuts to entitlement programs, King said, as well as increased revenues.
He said he liked the work of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which was co-chaired by Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming.
The commission proposed $200 billion in cuts in discretionary spending and $100 billion in increased tax revenues, such as a 15-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax and the elimination of tax deductions for home mortgage interest.
“Anybody who thinks we are going to get out of this deficit situation without revenues is dreaming,” King said.
He said that voting for an additional entitlement program without identifying money to pay for it amounts to a tax increase on future generations.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]
MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]