September 20, 2012

Polls show King's lead is shrinking in Senate race

His 25-percentage-point lead in June appears to be cut in half as Republican ads erode the independent's support.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

Former Gov. Angus King is holding on to a significantly narrowed lead in Maine's U.S. Senate race, according to results of two polls released Wednesday.

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U.S. Senate candidates, from left, independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill participate in a debate at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Sept. 13.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Will Democrats rescue King's shrinking lead? Read more in political reporter Steve Mistler's Capitol Ticker blog.

One poll shows King with a 15-percentage-point lead over Republican Charlie Summers, while the other shows King with an 8-point lead.

King, an independent, had a 25-point lead in the polls in June, before pro-Republican groups aired several waves of anti-King TV ads statewide.

Public Policy Polling, a national pollster, said Wednesday that its poll shows King with 43 percent, Summers with 35 percent and Democrat Cynthia Dill with 14 percent. Eight percent of voters were undecided, and the poll did not ask voters if they supported any of the other candidates in the race.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 804 likely Maine voters using automated telephone interviews on Sept. 17 and 18. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points, it said.

The Maine People's Resource Center released a separate poll showing King with 43.8 percent support, Summers with 28.2 percent and Dill with 14.9 percent. About 7 percent said they were undecided and 6.1 percent said they planned to vote for someone else.

There are lesser-known independents in the race -- Danny Dalton, Andrew Ian Dodge and Steve Woods.

The Maine People's Resource Center is a nonprofit research organization affiliated with the Maine People's Alliance, a liberal advocacy group. Its automated telephone poll surveyed 856 registered Maine voters in likely voter households from Sept. 15 through Sept. 17. The margin of error is 3.35 percentage points, according to the group.

Summers' campaign trumpeted the numbers in emails to the media and supporters Wednesday.

"While polls are just a snapshot in time, it's abundantly clear that anyone who thought this race would be a coronation was dead wrong," Summers' spokesman, Drew Brandewie, said in a written statement.

The King campaign, meanwhile, said the tightening race is not a surprise, given the advertising attacks.

"We currently have a double-digit lead in one poll and a smaller lead in another -- after $1.7 million in negative advertising from out-of-state, right-wing groups -- it's obvious this race can't be taken for granted and we are not going to," King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said in a written statement.

Dill released a statement in response to the Maine People's Resource Center poll, saying it proves that she is winning over voters and that expensive advertising is not helping her opponents.

"The numbers in today's poll reflect what I am hearing from Maine people," she said.

The race is being closely watched nationally. Republicans in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have targeted Maine as one of a small number of states that could help the party win a majority in the Senate. The poll results likely mean the groups will continue to pour money into the race.

"This is now a horse race," said Rob Engstrom, political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We believe this is now a tier-one opportunity."

The national Republican and Democratic senatorial committees did not immediately respond to Maine's new poll numbers.

King got into the race as the clear front-runner. A poll done for the Portland Press Herald by Critical Insights in late June indicated that King was favored by 55 percent of surveyed voters, compared with 27 percent for Summers and 7 percent for Dill. Nine percent said they were undecided.

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