Popular former independent Gov. Angus King shook things up in the scramble for the state’s open seat in the U.S. Senate on Monday night by announcing a bid to succeed Republican Olympia Snowe, bringing to the race a strong alternative to Republicans and Democrats criticized by Snowe for causing partisan gridlock.
King said the Senate needs an independent voice that’s not beholden to Republicans or Democrats.
“Nobody will be able to tell me how to vote except for the people of Maine,” he said.
King made his announcement after delivering a lecture at Bowdoin College, where he serves as distinguished lecturer. Just hours before, fellow independent Eliot Cutler offered a ringing endorsement, describing King as someone who’d bring an independent voice to the Senate, much as Snowe did in a congressional career that spanned more than three decades.
King, 67, decried the partisan politics that led Snowe to abandon the Senate.
“Instead of solving the nation’s problems, the best that they could do is drive out this extraordinary woman from Maine,” he said. “That’s wrong.”
A King candidacy adds complexity to a race that was thrown wide open by Snowe’s surprise announcement last week that she won’t be seeking a fourth term. Republicans and Democrats have only until March 15 to collect 2,000 signatures to meet the deadline to appear on the June primary. Independents like King have more time.
“Things just got more interesting,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
Brewer cited King’s popularity when he served from 1995 to 2003 in a state where independent voters who aren’t enrolled in a party represent the largest voting bloc. King worked with both parties as governor, and his administration enjoyed budget surpluses at the height of the Internet boom. He hatched the idea for Maine’s program that provided a laptop computer to each middle school student with a goal of eliminating the so-called digital divide between rich and poor kids.
Brewer said King “is not your typical independent or third-party candidate.”
“He left office being quite popular. He’s still quite popular today,” Brewer said. “He goes right to the top of the list, even though he doesn’t have the backing of the major parties and can’t tap party dollars.”
King, who has been active in developing wind energy since leaving office, said he wasn’t out to play a spoiler in the race by splitting the votes.
“The last time I did this, I split the vote by winning,” he said. “That’s what I intend to do this time.”
King said he’ll have an announcement in a couple of weeks of a bipartisan and geographically diverse campaign committee. He declined to say how he’d fund his campaign but said there would be no negative ads.
The remainder of the list of candidates has yet to shake out.
Scott D’Amboise, a conservative GOP candidate who’d worked for two years on his campaign, could be joined in the Republican primary by additional candidates such as Secretary of State Charles Summers, Attorney General William Schneider, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin or former state Sen. Rick Bennett.
On the Democratic side, four candidates have announced they’re running, but some might make way for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree or former Gov. John Baldacci, both of whom are considering the job.
While some had pressed for Cutler to run, he said he intends to continue working to restore the political center through organizations including No Labels and his OneMaine.
Cutler said it’s important to have an independent voice along the lines of Snowe.
“What made Olympia Snowe special was not that she is a woman or a Republican, sometimes in the majority and often in the minority, but that her vote was hers and hers alone,” Cutler said in a statement. “It wasn’t bound to one party or to one ideology; she called ‘em as she saw ‘em, and she worked hard to find compromise.”
King said the Washington establishment should be put on notice by voters.
“Frankly I might scare them. And that would be a good thing because Maine would be sending a message that if they don’t get their act together, other states and other communities are going to be sending more people like me,” King said. “That would be their worst nightmare.”