The last time Angus King Jr. ran for office, he easily surpassed his four competitors’ fundraising in an inexpensive race for governor.

The race for the U.S. Senate seat he’s now pursuing will surely make the numbers from King’s 1998 re-election appear paltry.

In 1998, King, an independent, spent about $785,000 — nearly four times as much as the other candidates’ expenditures combined. He did that even after imposing a $250 cap on each campaign contribution, a limit to which the vast majority of his donors adhered.

At the time, the legal limit was $1,000 from individuals and $5,000 from corporations.

In this year’s race for the seat to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a “modest” campaign budget could require $2 million to $3 million, says one national Democratic consultant, and the amount could rise sharply depending on who is in the race.

The race involves an unexpectedly open seat and is likely to draw national attention at a time when outside groups can spend unlimited amounts in support of a candidate.

King acknowledged that campaigns are more expensive than when he last ran for office — and won with about 59 percent of the vote.

He said he will skip one costly expense — negative television advertising, which he sees as ineffective in Maine anyway — but said he may have to run ads to defend himself.

“Money is important in politics, but I don’t think it’s the whole deal by any means,” King said Friday.

Jamie Broder, King’s finance co-chair, said the amount needed for the campaign will depend on the other candidates and the money that gets put into the race by the national parties and others from outside Maine.

He said the King campaign will not be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with national party funding but won’t have to because King is already well known throughout Maine.

“It’s a question of communicating to the people of Maine his ideas and how he can serve in Washington in a situation where the Congress is a broken institution and can’t seem do to the people’s business,” said Broder, who was King’s finance chair in 1994 and 1998 and co-chair of his gubernatorial transition team in 1994. “It’s not going to take $10 million to convey that message.”

In 1998, contributions to King’s campaign totaled $775,877. He raised $371,324 from individuals and $81,972 from corporations. King and his wife contributed $10,480 and loaned the campaign $289,140.

The individual contributors included lawyers, educators, fellow Brunswick residents and chiropractors — who were grateful to King for signing a bill that allowed patients to see them without referrals from primary care physicians, said John Royce, executive director of the Maine Chiropractic Association.

There also were retirees, homemakers, the self-employed and representatives of the nonprofit sector.

Bath Iron Works employees were well represented. The late Duane “Buzz” Fitzgerald, BIW’s former president, was among King’s core supporters. Other well-known donors from the business community were Leon Gorman of L.L. Bean, Thomas Chappell of Tom’s of Maine, David Shaw of Idexx Laboratories and David DeLorme of DeLorme.

In the campaign finance reporting periods from July 15 to Dec. 8, 1998, several companies donated at levels beyond King’s $250 cap.

Hancock Lumber Co. gave $4,319; Bath Iron Works gave $4,349; Georgia Pacific gave $3,778; Curtis, Thaxter, Stevens, Broder & Micoleau gave $2,197; and Cianbro Corp. gave $1,980.

Curtis, Thaxter is the law firm of former Gov. Kenneth Curtis, one of the prominent Democrats who supported King.

It can’t be assumed that King’s 1998 donors will contribute to his Senate campaign, said Douglas Hodgkin, professor emeritus of political science at Bates College and a Republican activist.

For one thing, King no longer has the advantage of being a popular incumbent, Hodgkin said. And the Senate race comes at a time when the parties are more ideological, “so they’re not going to roll over and play dead,” he said.

Another factor, Hodgkin said, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling two years ago that cleared the way for unlimited campaign spending by outside groups called super PACs.

Unlike in the 1998 gubernatorial election, corporations cannot contribute directly to Senate campaigns. But they can contribute to PACs as much as they want.

“It’s a question of who King will get money from on the national scene,” he said. “There could be some individuals out there that would be able to fund his campaign, but he doesn’t have a ready-made party organization and set of interest groups, as do the two parties.”

Ronald Schmidt Jr., a political scientist at the University of Southern Maine, said some corporate donors may feel it makes good business sense to continue their support of King — and contribute to the other candidates as well.

But an independent may seem like a riskier prospect because there will be more questions about how much he can do for their industries, he said.

“A big question, if you’re thinking about strategic contributions is: unlike a governor, senators specialize,” Schmidt said. “If he’s an independent, it may be harder for him to get the (Senate) committees you want” him to be on.

Peter Fenn, national Democratic consultant, said the amount of money King will need to be competitive will depend on the caliber of the Democrat on November’s ballot.

Without a high-profile Democratic contender like former Gov. John Baldacci, King could effectively be involved in a two-way race against the Republican nominee, said Fenn.

That might mean the “modest” campaign budget of $2 million to $3 million, Fenn said, “but if it is a serious three-way race, that number doubles or triples probably.”

Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, agreed that King’s fundraising needs can’t be assessed with certainty until his general-election opponents are decided.

“But it’s tough to see a new senator getting elected without at least a couple million dollars,” Gonzales said.

And that’s just what the candidates themselves will have to raise, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C. Super PACs will likely become major factors in the race, which could decide the balance of power in the Senate, she said.

Democratic donors will find ways to support King, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Many analysts believe — and some Democrats in Maine and nationally have acknowledged — that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s exit Wednesday as a prospective Senate candidate could lead Democrats to at least tacitly support King, a social liberal who has contributed money to President Obama’s campaigns.

“King won’t be married to the Democrats. It will be more like cohabitation, with the finances pooled,” Sabato said. “The Snowe retirement has given the Democrats a tremendous psychological boost nationally, and they are not about to blow this one.”

Sabato said he doesn’t know how much money King will need, but “I’ve yet to see a competitive Senate race that didn’t cost millions, even in a small state, in recent times.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]

 


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