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The Benefits of Being a Swing Vote

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Republican Sen. Thad Cochran said he expects both parties to vie for the votes of Angus King if the Independent candidate wins Maine’s open Senate seat.

The current Maine Senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have long been willing to cross the aisle and provide needed votes to Reid — usually in the majority’s quest to get 60 votes to overcome procedural blockades. That was especially true in the last Congress, when Reid had a larger majority and only needed to pick off one or two Republicans to kill a filibuster.

Snowe and Collins don’t profess to provide swing votes as a favor to the Nevada Democrat but, like Jeffords did, to act in the best interest of the New Englanders they represent.

While the 50th or 51st vote holds less power on a daily basis than it would without the threat of perpetual filibusters, a potential swing vote like King could prove critical during budget season. While King is an unlikely vote of support for any GOP-led Senate’s attempts to repeal the 2010 health care law, he could be an important factor in votes on other issues that are important to the majority or the minority.

Retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, a moderate deal-maker from Nebraska, knew King when both were governors of their home states. He said King has a chance to do what seems impossible and bridge the gap.

“I think he’s in a position to try to find others who will share thoughts with him, but it is very difficult these days to get anything done from the middle,” Nelson said. “No matter how hard you try or who you work with — but if anybody can do it, I think he’s the one who could.”

But as for the possibility of choosing no side at all, the woman who would be his senior Senator said that could leave King with the least influence of all.

“It’s my experience that to be effective, you have to join a party, and you have to be part of a caucus even if you don’t vote a party line,” Collins said.

“He has been very unclear,” Collins said. “You can’t have committee assignments without belonging to a caucus, so I really can’t speak for his approach.”

But King still leaves open the possibility that he may not choose at all. He said that based on his interpretation of the Senate rules, he could get committee assignments without joining with either the Democrats or Republicans, but how those would be apportioned is an open question.

Joshua Miller contributed to this report.

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