Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Bill Nemitz email@example.com
Wondering what goes through the mind of U.S. Senate hopeful Angus King as Maine hurtles toward Election Day?
AIRING IT OUT
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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.
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.
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.
"If I identified now as a Democrat, for example, I would lose that ability," King said. "I'd be just another guy on the other team."
Which, for all practical purposes, he already is.
Turn on your TV any time between now and Election Day and you'll see a near-constant barrage of ads lambasting King as the worst thing that could ever happen to Maine and the nation. All of the attacks, and the estimated $1.7 million that fuels them, are coming from Republicans.
And these are the guys he might nuzzle up to come November?
"I'm human and I have to take cognizance of what they're doing and the manner in which they're doing it," King conceded. "They're certainly not making it any easier for me."
That said, King noted, at least a few senators remain on each side of the aisle "who are willing to put the country first and who aren't straight-down-the-line partisans."
Also there in the middle would be King, palms outstretched in each direction, forging a bipartisan coalition that (fast forward six years) saves the Senate and all of America from death by political gridlock.
It's a tantalizing prospect -- and if King truly thinks he can pull it off, good luck to him.
But as we calculate his chances, let's all remember that there are two scenarios under which Maine's former two-term governor might prove his political mettle on the national stage.
In one -- still front and center in King's imagination -- he descends on Washington on Nov. 7 with a firm grip on the nation's levers of power.
In the other -- far more likely and, alas, far less dramatic -- he's holding only his suitcase.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: