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Late Returns: Angus King Will Determine The Fate Of America

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Nate Silver has taken a look across the great pollscape of American politics and has some good news for Democrats -- their odds of keeping control of the Senate have improved:

When we last took an overview of Senate races in December, Republicans appeared to be slight favorites to take control from Democrats, with a net gain of four to five seats representing the most likely outcome.

Since then, however, Republican fortunes have diminished somewhat because of problems with the quality of some candidates and key retirements. Although Republicans are most likely to gain seats on balance because Democrats have considerably more incumbents up for re-election, the question of whether the Republicans will win enough to gain control now appears to be closer to a tossup.

But there's a catch! It comes in the form of former Maine governor Angus King, who stepped up to run for the Senate seat of the departing Olympia Snowe, as an independent. King has massive in-state popularity, so much so that he became the instant frontrunner and chased the would-be contenders on the Democratic side out of the race. Now, Silver pitches King as the potential difference maker in the Senate:

Currently, we project the most likely outcome to be Republicans winning 50 seats, Democrats 49, and Mr. King the seat in Maine. Under those circumstances, the Democrats would retain control of the Senate if Mr. King caucused with them and President Obama won re-election, making Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. the tiebreaking vote. Otherwise, Republicans would control the chamber.

The problem of course, is that King seems to be a bit unclear about who he'd caucus with, and how this whole "caucusing with people" thing works. A few weeks ago, Jonathan Weisman attempted to divine where King stood, politically, and it's pretty clear that he's basically a left-leaning centrist:

Which side Mr. King leans toward is not so obscure. He thinks the health care law was not ambitious enough. He would have voted for the stimulus and has no qualms about benefiting from it.

He will vote for Mr. Obama’s re-election, and he offers serious doubts about Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee.

[...]

He opposes the prescription for Medicare in the House Republicans’ budget as 'a recipe for a tremendous shift to the elderly of their health care costs.' And after a long conversation with Erskine B. Bowles, a chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, he said he was 'dating' -- but not marrying -- the deficit-reduction plan put forward by Mr. Bowles and former Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Republican. Taming the deficit without revenue increases 'isn’t realistic,' he said.

Of course, as Weisman reports, King also said he "might have voted against the Wall Street regulatory overhaul," which is the only place he really gets close to the Senate GOP caucus.

Addressing this complicated matter of which side to take, King has offered a high-toned paean to individualism, saying: "We could send down a combination of Pericles and Thomas Jefferson, and if that person’s reporting to Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell, he’s going to be ineffective. Every vote is a test vote. Every vote is party loyalty. We’re sunk if it keeps up this way."

Of course, as Alex Pareene points out: "'Caucusing' with a party in the Senate does not mean 'always voting in lockstep with.' Caucusing with the Democrats does not force you take take marching orders from Harry Reid, as anyone who has paid attention to the news over the last five years or so should know by now. But not caucusing with anyone means you don’t get any committee assignments, or any say over legislative priorities."

In the end, I think David Dayen put it well when he said, "Angus King is about to become the most insufferable man in America." Have fun wooing this guy, everybody.

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