Former Maine Gov. Angus King, the real wild card of this year’s Senate campaign, has been declared the winner to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe. King, an independent, defeated Secretary of State Charlie Summers, a Republican, and Democratic state senator Cynthia Dill.
The plainspoken King, 68, a fixture of Maine politics for decades, was the favorite to win the race, but he has given few clues as to which party he would caucus with if he won. At one time he was viewed as the guy most likely to break a deadlock if neither the Democrats nor the Republicans could claim a 51 vote majority in the new Congress -- but that was before the GOP’s bid to take back control of the Senate began to fizzle.
Asked earlier this year by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews which party King might caucus with if elected, the former two-term Maine governor seemed unconcerned about making a decision anytime soon.
“If you read the Constitution, Article 1 talks about Congress … and the word caucus doesn’t appear anywhere. Neither does the word party,” King said. “And I don’t see how you can necessarily exclude a duly elected United States senator from Maine or anywhere else because they refuse to join one or the other of the party caucuses.”
Matthews then rejoined: “Why don’t you say … I will give up all my committee assignments to maintain my independence.”
King replied: “That is absolutely an option and is one of the options I am considering.”
Odds are that if he caucuses with either party, it will be with the Democrats.
Much to the chagrin of the GOP, King’s path to a return to power was cleared by Snowe’s decision earlier this year to retire.
For years, it was an article of faith that if there was an important bipartisan deal to be struck on Capitol Hill, Snowe would be in the mix. Throughout struggles to find common ground on issues ranging from campaign finance reform and health care to economic stimulus and intelligence, the willowy, amiable Snowe was invariably a major player.
So her announcement in late February that she was retiring after for more than three decades in Congress out of sheer frustration with the relentless, grinding partisanship on Capitol Hill was another sobering reminder that Congress has been rendered a political no-man’s land where compromise between the two armed camps is a rare exception.
“As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion,” Snowe, 65, said in a statement that caught her staff and much of Washington by surprise. “I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies have become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.
Indeed, the days of moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats with a propensity for compromise are sadly marked. The retirement at the end of this year of Democratic senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, independent Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and now Snowe continues a mass exit of lawmakers who occupied the political middle ground on Capitol Hill.