Former Gov. and Senate frontrunner Angus King greets attendees at the Moxie Festival parade in Lisbon, Maine, on Saturday. The Independent candidate is so well-liked that he can probably afford some missteps and withstand attack ads.
Summers, soft-spoken and easygoing in an interview last week in Augusta, has the résumé of a winner. But that’s not the word one would use to describe his record in bids for federal office. Summers has lost three elections for the 1st district House seat: a primary in 1994 and general elections in 2004 and 2008.
He’s a Navy reservist and has served as a state legislator, a state director for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), a regional administrator for the Small Business Administration and began serving as secretary of State, a position chosen by the Legislature, in 2011.
Summers, 52, insists the race is primed to change now that the primaries are over and King’s record as governor comes under more scrutiny.
“I do believe that you’ll see the polling change, probably dramatically,” Summers said. “Angus is yesterday’s news. He was governor before the Internet and is almost 70 years old.”
The Internet was actually around for King’s full tenure, but Summers has a point. There is a swath of voters who are not familiar with King since his time in the public eye was so long ago.
At Roy’s All Steak Hamburgers in Auburn, King walks in during breakfast hours to a completely blank stare from the young female cashier. But a moment later, a 20-something waitress bearing a pitcher of coffee chuckles when she spots King.
“I had my picture taken with him when I was in the 7th grade,” she says.
King pushed through a program in his final years in office to give every middle-school student a laptop. Many students who benefited from that program — still in action — are now voters, a point King not-so-subtly makes on more than one occasion.
But King doesn’t have a ready answer about what other gubernatorial accomplishments had similarly lasting effects. He eventually mentions some infrastructure projects.
Summers knocks King’s record. But in interviews with voters here, the substance of King’s tenure has evaporated from their collective memories, leaving only a pleasant-smelling essence.
“People are content to bask in their still-warm memories of his administration,” Democratic consultant Michael Cuzzi said. “You can reach this point in the psyche of Maine voters where they like you and they trust you. And whether you are a D, an R or an I, you are able to carry the cross-party vote. ... Angus is in that echelon of trustworthiness.”
The King and I
For an independent-leaning state, King’s message of shaking up the sclerotic Washington process resonates.
Political insiders see outside groups as the one possible path to knocking him off his perch.
“The only scenario under which I could see King losing this race is if an outside group comes in and targets him with a lot of independent expenditure money and explains what his real record is,” the GOP strategist said. “Short of that, it’s going to be very difficult for him to be beaten.”
The juggernaut GOP-aligned group American Crossroads and its super PAC affiliate, Crossroads GPS, have not yet spent money in Maine this cycle.
American Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson said the group is monitoring the race.
“If there is an opportunity for us to help keep that seat Republican, we’ll take that opportunity,” he says.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.