The other candidate to separate himself is Bennett. He raised the most money in the first quarter and has what unaligned Maine Republicans describe as the most organized campaign.
Republicans acknowledge that they face an uphill battle. But what might indicate their private optimism is the strength of consultants the GOP candidates have hired. Schneider hired Snowe’s former campaign manager, Justin Brasell, who previously advised Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
“The campaigns are not as robust as voters would expect to see in a U.S. Senate primary,” said Republican consultant Brent Littlefield, who is advising Bennett and previously worked for LePage.
King continues to play coy, and in an email exchange with Roll Call, he declined to hint which party he might caucus with if elected Nov. 6. The Senate’s two Independents — retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) — vote with the Democrats.
King said he would base his decision on whether to caucus with a party at all on whether doing so is necessary for him to serve his state effectively. The former governor added that he intended to remain independent of both Senate conferences as long as he could, if not indefinitely, unless such associations are required for committee membership.
“A big part of my decision will be based upon which caucus will allow me the most independence and the minimum of party control,” King said.
King’s candidacy was enough to scare off Democratic Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both of whom would have been considered top-tier contenders for Snowe’s seat. Each considered running before deferring to the former governor. Republicans have repeatedly pushed the story that King made a deal with the Democrats to caucus with them after the election.
But not all Democrats played along. State Sen. Cynthia Dill and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap declared their Senate candidacies prior to Snowe’s February retirement announcement, and both have declined to drop out of the Democratic primary. Dunlap is described as “reasonable” and “rational” and is better positioned to appeal to voters in a general election. His campaign is also more organized, political watchers in the state said.
However, some Democrats speculate that Dunlap voters might already be aligned with King and will sit out the primary. Dill is a liberal firebrand and more likely to motivate base Democrats. National party officials are skeptical of both Democrats’ viability in the general election.
While all of these other candidates position for the primary June 12, King has no primary of his own. And he confirmed to Roll Call that he has met the threshold of signatures due June 1 to qualify for the general election ballot.
“It’s definitely his [race] to lose,” the unaligned Maine Democratic strategist said.