Republicans are quietly optimistic about Maine after initially panicking that Sen. Olympia Snowe’s unexpected retirement would throw her seat to the Democrats.
Boosting the GOP’s hopes, ironically, is former Gov. Angus King.
The formidable Independent and supporter of President Barack Obama scared top Democrats out of the Senate race. Although multiple Democratic candidates are running in the June 12 primary, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have put their hopes for flipping this seat on King, who many political observers believe will caucus with the Democrats.
But King has yet to reveal his plans, and Maine political strategists on both sides say his indecision could be legitimate. And, where a one-on-one race looked problematic for the Republicans in the Pine Tree State, whose two House Members are Democrats, the GOP is now hopeful that its candidate could win a three-way contest with a plurality, as happened in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
“Democrats shouldn’t be saying [King] is in the bag,” said one Maine Democratic strategist who is not involved in the race. “And Republicans shouldn’t be attacking him profusely because at the end of the day, he is going to do what he thinks is best.”
In 2010, current Gov. Paul LePage (R) won with 38 percent of the vote against a Democrat and an Independent who split the rest of the electorate. In fact, the Independent in that race finished second, with the Democrat a distant third. Fearing a repeat of this scenario, top-tier Democrats have stayed out of the 2012 Senate race and assumed that King will vote for Reid as Majority Leader.
Snowe, a three-term Senator and former House Member, was considered well-positioned for re-election and appeared committed to running until her surprise retirement announcement. The timing of her decision meant Republican primary candidates had little time to raise money or collect the signatures required to earn a spot on the June 12 ballot.
But after a brief scramble, several Republican candidates emerged, including four deemed viable: former state Senate President Rick Bennett, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Attorney General William Schneider and Secretary of State Charles Summers. Poliquin, Schneider and Summers were all elected to their current positions by the Legislature.
Poliquin and Bennett have separated themselves from the pack.
Poliquin was the only candidate advertising on television, with an ad buy of about $150,000. Further enhancing his credibility is his potential to self-fund. He also picked up a FreedomWorks PAC endorsement, has been actively courting the tea party and is the most likely Republican in the field to garner the movement’s support.