September 27, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Why is King playing coy about caucusing?

By Bill Nemitz

Wondering what goes through the mind of U.S. Senate hopeful Angus King as Maine hurtles toward Election Day?


Tune in to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.

Let's take a peek:

"It's completely possible that I could be in an incredibly influential and important position if the numbers come out," King told me late last week.

He wasn't talking about the vote tally, although King's dream come true first requires that he prevail over Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill on Nov. 6.

No, the independent King was explaining why he remains hellbent on waiting until after the election to announce which party he'll line up with if and when he finally arrives on Capitol Hill.

Say what? You're already certain he'll caucus with the Democrats?

You and about 1.3 million other Mainers. That's what makes King's coyness so perplexing -- and at the same time, so quintessentially Angus King.

Just imagine: It's Nov. 7 and as the final counts trickle in from places like Nebraska, North Dakota and, yes, Maine, Capitol Hill is abuzz with the news that the new Senate consists of 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans (or vice versa) and one Angus King.

Make that one very pleased Angus King.

He'll have three choices.

He can caucus with the Republicans -- and in the process, immediately tick off the many moderate-to-liberal Mainers who assumed all that winking and nodding (see: King Endorses Obama Re-election) meant King was going to veer left upon his arrival in Washington, D.C.

He can caucus with the Democrats -- and quietly join fellow independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at the Democratic lunch table reserved for the quirky guys from northern New England.

Or he can caucus with no one -- in which case the Democrats would still hold a 50-49 majority (not to mention a vice presidential tiebreaker should President Obama win re-election) and wouldn't need King, anyway.

Put more simply, this potential nail biter isn't all that King cracks it up to be. Nor, for that matter, does it look like it will even happen.

In defending his decision to "keep my powder dry" between now and the election, King likes to quote Nate Silver, a number-cruncher for The New York Times whose blog "FiveThirtyEight" has convinced King in recent months that "I could have an enormous amount of influence" over the Senate come November.

Or not.

In his two most recent postings on the state of play in the Senate, Silver noted on Sept. 18 that "gradual deterioration" of Republicans' hopes in several states put the probability of a Democratic majority at 70 percent. Two days later, citing "key races shifting decisively toward the Democrats," Silver upped his projection to 79 percent.

"The forecast model is not doing anything particularly fancy," Silver wrote. "It's just that an overwhelming number of Senate polls recently have shown the Democratic candidates' standing improving."

In other words, as the campaign season enters the home stretch with the national pendulum clearly swinging toward the Democrats, King's chances of emerging as the ultimate power broker appear to be somewhere between long shot and la-la land.

So why hold out for the melodrama? Or conversely, why not tell Maine voters exactly what they'll get in exchange for their vote just over five weeks from now?

Two reasons, replied King.

First, he said, "if I announced now that I was going to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans, I've basically given up the premise of my campaign, which is that we really need to do something different."

Which segues smoothly to King's second reason.

During a recent visit to Maine in which he endorsed King, fiscal reformer Erskine Bowles likened him to "a bridge ... who can go between the two parties" on, for starters, the looming showdown over the federal debt ceiling.

(Continued on page 2)

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