November 5, 2012

Race for Snowe's seat has been hot since its start

The senator's February surprise touched off a contest that has attracted big national attention and money.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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Today's poll: Election tone

Has the tone of this year's election season been nastier than usual?



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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

Media companies from New York to Washington and Los Angeles sent crews to Maine to tag along with the independent candidate who could help decide which way the Senate leans. King also quickly became the target of the first negative ads -- back in July -- as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized King's record as governor and his wind energy business.

King proudly declared that he was running for the Senate for the very reasons Snowe was leaving -- Congress' hyper-partisanship and unwillingness to compromise even when dealing with the nation's gravest challenges. Yet King has insisted that, as an independent not beholden to serving in either trench, he could wield disproportionate power.

Playing on Maine's independent streak, King has steadfastly refused to say with which party he would caucus if elected, despite being asked constantly by reporters, debate moderators and voters.

King's caucus non-committal has prompted some skeptics -- including Maine Democratic Party leaders who are backing Dill -- to question whether progressive or left-leaning voters would be taking a gamble with King. Most political observers believe King will side with the Democrats, given his support for President Obama, backing of Obama's health care law, support for abortion rights and other stances.

But King's vagueness could add a wrinkle to Election Day if the fight for the Senate is close.

"Maine might be part of the reason we don't know who will be in control of the Senate on election night," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor at The Rothenberg Political Report, a D.C.-based newsletter. "I don't think there is any debate on whether he will caucus with the Republicans or the Democrats, but I don't think he will make an election night announcement."


Maine's high-stakes Senate race has attracted big money from out of state.

Although likely to fall short of the record $14 million spent in the 2008 race between Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, the 2012 race has drawn more outside money than any past race. In fact, outside interests have outspent the candidates themselves by a significant margin, thereby changing the debate and tone of the race.

As of Friday, outside groups operating independently of the campaigns had spent $7.3 million in Maine. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was leading the pack with roughly $1.5 million spent on anti-Summers ads, followed by the U.S. Chamber and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, each of which spent about $1.3 million on ads attacking King.

Two more recent arrivals to the race are Americans Elect -- a nonpartisan group supporting King that is funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and two other billionaires -- and Karl Rove's conservative group Crossroads GPS, which opposes King and supports Summers.

Americans Elect has already spent $1.3 million of the $1.75 million pledged to help King while Crossroads GPS has spent roughly $1 million. That led The New York Times to write last week that "the Maine Senate race has become so convoluted that at times it has seemed as if Karl Rove and Michael R. Bloomberg were running against each other."

Summers and King have also courted wealthy out-of-state donors, with both attending fundraisers in Washington and King benefiting from an event thrown by Bloomberg at his Manhattan residence.

But the outside groups have provided some of the twists and turns that made Maine's Senate race so unusual. The Republican-aligned Maine Freedom PAC, for instance, aimed to help Summers by driving more voters to Dill with ads praising her as the "real progressive." The Democratic committee, meanwhile, aired more than 1,000 anti-Summers ads presumably to help not the Democrat but King, whose lead was shrinking.

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Today's poll: Election tone

Has the tone of this year's election season been nastier than usual?



View Results