Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Maine U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Maine U.S. Senate

August 8, 2012
90 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

In classifying this race as Leans Democrat, there is some formulation involved. It is unlikely that the Democrat nominee for the seat will win. She is actually likely to finish a distant third place, continuing the trend of Democrats not having won a Senate seat in Maine since 1988, despite all the advantages that party should have in a New England location. What I am mainly (no pun intended) saying is that the likely next Senator  from the state will be on the ballot as an Independent, and that person, while not a certainty, will probably caucus with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, while formally remaining an Independent.

This race was not supposed to be much of a contest, as most believed that popular moderate Republican incumbent Olympia Snowe would seek a fourth term. She surprised many across the spectrum this winter when she announced she was leaving public life. Suddenly, Democrats had their prime pick-up opportunity in the country and Republicans were left facing the real possibility of losing a vote they had counted on in trying to regain the majority in 2012.

As soon as Snowe made her announcement, much jockeying began in both parties. Both of Maine's U.S. House members; Democrats who were not planning to take on the formidable Snowe, seemed to quickly jump into the race, before then jumping back out and into reelection campaigns instead just as soon. Other Democrats, who were preparing to run for the nomination while Snowe was still on the scene, had dropped out of the Senate race, in deference to the two House members, and then when they stood down, they then jumped back into the Senate race. Just about every prominent Republican in the state was mentioned as a candidate either for the Senate seat, or for what might have been two open House seats. While neither House seat is now open, some are running for those anyways, while six Republicans ran for the Senate nomination in the June primary.

All the while, in a state where the political parties as an institution are perhaps weaker than anywhere in America, much speculation centered on Angus King, who had served two fairly popular terms as the Independent left of center (though he had once supported Republican George W. Bush for President) Governor of Maine. When King expressed interest in the Senate race, many Democrats decided he would be their best option, even though he had no intention of actually running as one, and that likely had much to do with some of the more prominent Democrats in the state taking a pass. It is also worth nothing that there was a concern that many Democrats did not want to see their vote split in a November election, which could enable a Republican to slip in with a plurality of the vote. That is what happened in the state's 2010 Gubernatorial race, as the one favored Democrat nominee finished in third behind a centrist Independent and a fair right-wing Republican who is now the Governor.

In truth, the DSCC and others in the Democrat Party would prefer that they did not formally have a party nominee on the ballot who could theoretically complicate things for King. who is on the general election ballot, along with a few other non major party candidates. The party did formally nominate Cynthia Dill, who won a four way primary. Dill is a very liberal State Senator, who is now languishing in third place in the polls, still in single digits, and who has been somewhat fruitlessly imploring her party, both in her state and in Washington D.C. to lend her any kind of support at all.

The winner of the crowded Republican primary was Charlie Summers, a businessman and Iraq War veteran who was selected (as is customary) by the GOP majority state legislature to be Secretary of State. A former State Senator, Summers has three times lost bids to be elected to Congress, most recently in 2008 when he was defeated by 10 points as the GOP nominee. Still though, Summers appears to be an attractive candidate, with a moderate image, which has long been a winning formula for Maine Republicans seeking Senate seats.

It seems pretty clear at this point that the winner of the race will either be King or Summers, but King clearly has the edge. Right now, the former Governor has a large lead in the polls and is running at perhaps just above the 50% mark, which would be more than enough to win in a multi-candidate field. Summers is a decent candidate but has a tough task of trying to convince some of the state's moderate GOP voters to not support the Independent King in the election, while also hoping that more liberals and Democrats abandon King for Dill.

When just the candidates are taken into account, I would put the race as "Likely King" at this point and have to assume that as a Senator, he will not formally join any party. The conventional wisdom though is that he will organize with the Democrats and count as one of them for those purposes, as the social liberal and environmentalist seems to have more in common with them than Republicans. While he backed GWB in 2000, King has supported Democrats for President since.

Nonetheless, I suppose there is always a chance that if Republicans are able to capture the Senate majority without Maine, or if King's one vote could make the difference, Republicans could approach King with some sort of deal, offering him some sort of deal for increased influence as a freshman for his vote to organize with them. That is probably unlikely, but Angus King is still a politician after all.

Summers campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 6 D, 2 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 36 D, 39 R