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Maine Independent Aims To Be Senate King, Acknowledges Potted Plant Potential

Former Maine Gov. Angus King speaks March 5 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
Joel Page
Former Maine Gov. Angus King speaks March 5 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

The most potentially influential politician you've probably never heard of, former two-term Maine Gov. Angus King, on Tuesday officially entered the race to replace retiring moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe.

King, 68, an alternative-energy entrepreneur and supporter of President Obama, filed more than 6,000 signatures with Maine's secretary of state to ensure his place on November's ballot.

He'll run as an independent, as he did for his successful gubernatorial runs in the 1990s.

With control of the U.S. Senate — now held 53-47 by Democrats — up for grabs in November, King is already among the most-watched candidates in the nation. National Republicans have targeted him, accusing King of being in cahoots with Democrats, and noting he accepted a federal stimulus-related $100 million-plus loan guarantee for a wind power project.

King, a Ted Turner lookalike with a polished television presence, is one of the most popular political figures in the state. He announced his intention to run for Snowe's seat shortly after her late February announcement that she would not seek a fourth term, citing partisanship and gridlock.

And he's been answering questions since about how, if elected, he would function in the Senate. Would he caucus with Senate Democrats, as do two other independent senators, including retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut? Would he align with Republicans?

Or would he forgo the committee-assignment clout of a party caucus and use his floor vote to wield solo power on close decisions in a deeply divided chamber?

To get a sense of who King is, and where he's going, we're taking a look at the man, in his own words.

What party would he caucus with if elected to the Senate?

"I have not made up my mind. To quote the great [late Sen.] Ed Muskie [D-Maine], I'll make that decision when they get to the Ks as they're calling the roll." -- ABC-7, Bangor, Maine, March 10

"I'm not going to make a decision until I get down there. I do think I can go down and remain as independent as long as possible." -- CNN, April 6

"I don't want to go down and stand on principle and just be a potted plant." -- MSNBC with Chris Matthews, May 10

"My goal is to stay as independent as I can. I want to be able to have that flexibility as long as possible. It may be that in order to be effective, I'm going to have to sign up with one of the other teams. I don't want to do that. On the other hand, I don't want to go down and be a potted plant. That wouldn't be fair to Maine." -- One-on-One with Ian Maksut, Thornton Academy TV, May 16

Why did he decide to run, after being out of politics since 2003?

"The way [Sen. Snowe] left the job is what provoked me to run. [She has] a great work ethic, great integrity, and basically she said, 'I can't get anything done.' I said, we've got to try something different." -- CNN

"[It was] what Olympia Snowe said when she announced her retirement. What she said was, the system isn't working. If she can't get anything done within one of the parties, I said, I think I've got to try this in a different way." -- One-on-One with Maksut

What prompted him to run as an independent, back in the 1990s, and now?

"I didn't feel fully comfortable ideologically in either party. I was too moderate, or liberal, if you will, on social issues for the Republicans, and pretty conservative on fiscal issues and taxation for the other side. I'm going to be who I am and go down the middle." -- One-on-One with Ian Maksut, Thornton Academy TV, May 16

"It's really great not to have to check with someone before you make up your mind." -- CNN, April 6

Why does he support Obama?

"I disagree with him on a lot of matters. I've thought a lot about it. But I think, given the hand that he was dealt, he's done a pretty good job. You got to make a choice. I've never yet been presented with the perfect candidate, so that's the decision I've made." -- MSNBC with Chris Matthews, May 10

What are his expectations about what clout he'd have — or wouldn't have — if elected?

"I want to be a pebble in the pond that starts change." -- CNN, April 6

"My guess is it's going to be somewhere in between no power and a lot of power. That will depend on how the numbers come out in November. If the Senate is very carefully balanced and I have the vote that decides which party controls the Senate, I'll have a lot of power. I'll be the most popular girl at the prom. If there's a wide margin for either party, they won't have to do business with me." -- One-on-One with Ian Maksut, Thornton Academy TV, May 16

The state's major parties will hold primaries June 12 to determine King's opponents. Six candidates are vying for the GOP nomination; four candidates are seeking the Democratic nod.

A poll taken early last month showed King — who voted for Republican George W. Bush for president in 2000, and for Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 — with a wide early lead over the top prospective Democratic and Republican nominees.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.