The decision of former Gov. Angus King (above) to run as an Independent led Rep. Chellie Pingree to forgo her own bid for the seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe. Sources said Pingree didnt want to split the vote with King and give the GOP a victory.
Eight days after Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) turned the political world on its head with her retirement announcement, the succession battle has kept heads spinning.
The latest kink in both national parties' plans was Rep. Chellie Pingree's (D) Wednesday announcement that she would not seek the seat. That left Democratic, Republican and even Independent operatives scrambling.
At the center of all the drama is former Gov. Angus King (I), who announced Monday that he was launching his bid for the Senate. He is a serious contender and now the frontrunner for the seat. Speculation abounds about which political party he will chose to caucus with and how a possible Independent Senator could affect the balance of power in the Senate in 2013.
Democrats repeatedly said Pingree was their strongest potential candidate, but in her statement Wednesday, she said, "I concluded that I will best serve the people of Maine by running for re-election to the House."
Former Gov. John Baldacci (D) and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) are also in the early stages of building campaigns.
While the GOP field is also in flux, national Republicans spent most of the week fueling a narrative that Democrats pushed Pingree out of the race and that Senate Democratic leadership was secretly negotiating with King to join the caucus if elected.
"That is completely untrue," said a source familiar with Pingree's thinking. "I never saw any attempt to push her out."
But the question of whom to caucus with remains a big one for King. Because of his unique brand and popularity, speculation was rampant, but his nascent campaign refused to disclose a preference.
"We have discussed it," King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said. "He will caucus where it will be most effective."
When asked whether voters will know any sort of inclination prior to the election, she said it was "very early in the campaign" to come to such a conclusion.
One Democratic insider said King's entry into the race is a "big get" for the Democrats and their effort to hold the majority. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said he fully expects King to caucus with the Democrats if elected, based on discussions with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). But Cornyn made it clear he is not conceding the race and is hoping to help snag a formidable GOP challenger.