March 7, 2012

Pingree won't run for U.S. Senate

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said today she won't run for the U.S. Senate, a decision that appears to boost the candidacy of independent former Gov. Angus King.

In the wake of Pingree's decision, Democrats might coalesce behind the socially liberal former governor, who won two campaigns in 1994 and 1998 as an independent, the second one with nearly 59 percent of the vote in a five-way race.

Pingree said in an interview today that, in large part, she is not running because of the fear that she and King might divide the Democratic base, thus paving the way for a victory by a Republican contender.

In the aftermath of Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's decision not to seek a fourth term, the Senate race in Maine is considered a key race nationally, one whose outcome could decide whether Democrats retain a Senate majority.

Several Maine and national Democratic officials and strategists interviewed today said it's possible that many Maine Democrats may decide to back King over a member of their own party. But they stressed that there have been no overtures to King and no party decision to support him.

For his part, King has been adamant that he is running as an independent. He said that if he wins the race, he won't commit to caucusing in the Senate with either Democrats or Republicans until he goes to Washington.

Pingree, who has represented Maine's 1st Congressional District since 2008, had considered a run for Senate after Snowe announced her retirement last week.

Pingree's decision will likely prompt many, if not all, of the 12 Democrats who have expressed interest in succeeding her in the House to drop out of the race.

It remains to be seen which Republicans eyeing her seat will go ahead now that Pingree is seeking re-election. She is seen as the favorite to win re-election as an incumbent in the Democratic-leaning district in southern Maine.

After King announced his independent bid Monday night, Pingree had acknowledged that she shared widely discussed concerns that she and King might divide the Democratic base, thus opening the door to the Senate for a Republican candidate.

Pingree is a member of the House Progressive Caucus, and had been urged to run for the Senate by liberal groups such as Moveon.org.

"What worried me most is that this race could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate," Pingree said today in a phone interview. "We have seen three-way contests before become very complex (in Maine) and I didn't want to take the chance that my entering the race would make it more likely for a Republican to be the next senator from the state of Maine."

Pingree’s 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.

Pingree had been considered the strongest Democratic candidate for the Senate race after Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, decided against a Senate run. Some Democrats and analysts thought Michaud could be as strong or stronger because he is a moderate from the more conservative northern part of the state.

Now, Pingree's exit could mean that Democrats at least tacitly throw their support to King, a social liberal who has contributed money to President Obama's campaigns.

Indeed, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, Rob Jesmer, charged today in a release that "the fix has been in for national Democrats to privately anoint Independent candidate Angus King as their standard-bearer."

(Continued on page 2)

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