November 6, 2012

King wins Maine's pivotal U.S. Senate seat

The 68-year-old, Harley Davidson-riding, politically independent former two-term governor weathered a storm of negative television ads from out-of-state groups trying to elect a Republican majority to the Senate.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Angus King waves to supporters as he takes the stage in Freeport on Tuesday night after being declared the winner for the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Angus King supporters cheer in Freeport on Tuesday night upon seeing CNN call Angus King the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Maine.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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He spoke to National Public Radio shortly after the polls closed and repeated his position that he will wait to decide which party, if any, to support. He said he will be talking to Senate leaders over the next several weeks.

"I want to talk about how independent I can remain. My goal is to be as independent as I can be as long as I can be," King said. "I also want to talk about whether there are some changes that can be made to the Senate rules so that the place can work better.... That's what I've been hearing on the street for eight months – 'go down there and get them to talk to each other.' "

King faced an aggressive challenge from Summers, who won a six-way primary in his fourth bid for statewide office. The 52-year-old former state senator and state director for Snowe made three unsuccessful bids for Congress.

Summers' Senate campaign got the backing of roughly $4 million worth of anti-King television ads aired by out-of-state pro-Republican groups. King countered with his own ads calling for voters to reject outside influences.

King even got help from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which never endorsed the party's own long-shot candidate, but paid for television ads attacking Summers.

Dill won her party's primary but has seen most of her party members back King in the polls.

Democrats were nervous about a repeat of the 2010 race for governor, when they split their votes between their party's nominee and a moderate independent and effectively helped elect Republican Paul LePage.

Dill, a 42-year-old lawyer regarded as a steadfast partisan, urged Democrats to not vote out of fear, but never was able to rise out of a distant third place in the pre-election polls.

King clearly had strong support at southern and coastal Maine polling places.

James McKenzie, 52, cast his vote for King at the South Portland Community Center Tuesday afternoon.

"I am independent and I think that us independents – we're not ideologues," said McKenzie, a full-time student.

McKenzie said "it's ridiculous" that partisan polarization has crippled Congress and drove Olympia Snowe to retire.

"(Snowe) couldn't vote her conscience anymore because of all the idiots on the right trying to make the Republicans all act a certain way, and the same thing happens on the left," he said.

McKenzie said he hopes that one independent from Maine can make a difference. "I think he'll be able to make more of a difference than if a Democrat or Republican is elected."

Reginald Butler, a 27-year-old from Falmouth, said he had voted for Snowe since he was 18.

"I was sad I couldn't vote for Olympia this time around," said Butler.

In the end, Butler chose the candidate he felt was more moderate, like Snowe. And it wasn't Summers, who took a pledge against tax increases and staked out other conservative positions during the campaign.

"I went to Angus because I was not into the tea party candidate," Butler said, referring to Summers. "I hate voting for the rich guy but that's how it goes."

Michael Fitzgerald, of Falmouth, said he voted a straight Republican ticket, including for Summers.

King was likeable and did an acceptable job as governor, he said. But at the last minute, Fitzgerald decided it was important to get more Republicans in Congress.

Christina Briggs, an Obama supporter, also voted for King, but said it was a hard choice between King and Dill.

"I struggled with this. It was difficult for me," she said. "He really has the best interests of Maine in mind. He won't be partial to one side or the other. He'll vote for what's best and not the party line."

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