Monday, March 10, 2014
WASHINGTON — Maine was supposed to be one of the easy states.
On the ballot Tuesday for Olympia Snowe's U.S. Senate seat are, from left, top row, independents Danny Dalton and Andrew Ian Dodge and Democrat Cynthia Dill; and from left, bottom row, independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and independent Steve Woods.
The Associated Press
As Republican leaders on Capitol Hill laid out their strategy for retaking the Senate, Maine was considered a near lock for the party, thanks to Sen. Olympia Snowe's longevity and cross-party appeal back home. And then came Snowe's surprise Feb. 28 announcement.
"After an extraordinary amount of reflection and consideration, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate," Snowe said, citing the political polarization in Congress.
"In essence, Olympia Snowe's retirement is one of the great bumps in the road that has impeded the Republican path to 50 (seats)," said Larry Sabato, an election prognosticator with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "It is becoming increasingly obvious that they are not likely going to win control of the Senate," Sabato said, and Snowe's retirement "helped to change the momentum."
Snowe's decision also shook Maine's political map like an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, briefly threatening to rewrite the ballots for the state's two House races and eventually leading to a six-person Republican primary and a four-person Democratic primary.
What followed has been one of the most closely watched Senate bouts in the nation, and one of the most unconventional races in Maine history.
Republican groups ran ads to boost a Democrat. National Democrats all but ignored their own nominee in favor of a left-leaning independent. Out-of-state billionaires dumped huge sums into ads on both sides. And Snowe -- whose approval rating often approaches 70 percent -- has steered clear of campaigning with Republican candidate Charlie Summers, a former member of her staff, even while helping Senate Republicans in other states.
DOWN TO THREE
Independent Angus King, Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill are now the three top candidates seeking Snowe's seat, with King believed to be leading the group by a safe margin. Three other independents -- Danny Dalton, Andrew Ian Dodge and Steve Woods -- are also on the ballot.
But after months of television ads -- including $7 million purchased by outside groups alone -- it is easy to forget that at one point many of the biggest names in Maine politics were considering a run.
On the Democratic side, former Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud all gathered signatures to qualify for the ballot. But each ultimately decided against it, some reportedly at the urging of national Democratic leaders concerned about handing Summers a victory by splitting the liberal and moderate vote.
State Senate President Kevin Raye, a Republican running to displace Michaud in the 2nd District, considered joining the fray. And for a few days in March, political junkies were buzzing not over whether an independent would run for the Senate but which independent: King or Eliot Cutler?
Personal friends, King and Cutler -- who fell two points short of winning the governor's mansion in 2010 -- reportedly talked it over before King decided to enter the race. Cutler, meanwhile, signed on as one of King's statewide campaign chairmen as he gears up for another gubernatorial run in 2014.
But there were also rumors of another agreement -- this one between King and Democratic leaders in Washington. The former governor has forcefully denied any suggestions that he has pledged to caucus with the Democrats, if elected.
"As I said the night I announced, no one is going to tell me how to vote except the people of Maine," King said after Democrats launched television advertisements widely regarded as helping him.
AHEAD FROM THE GET-GO
Even before the Republican and Democratic primaries were over, it was clear that King would be the candidate to beat come November. With his easy-going style, politicking skills and iconic mustache, King entered the race with a significant name-recognition advantage and an electorate that generally seemed to remember liking him as governor a decade ago.
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