When Angus King jumped into the U.S. Senate race in Maine to replace the retiring Olympia Snowe, he rode a wave of popularity and goodwill from Mainers who fondly remember his turn as their state's governor to instant front-runner status, immediately chasing one Democratic party aspirant, current Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree out of the race. From there, King appeared to have the inside track to Snowe's seat, but from the outset, he made a puzzling decision: he told Maine voters that he wasn't going to caucus with either party, if elected.
As Alex Pareene endeavored to explain, "Unfortunately, that's just not really how being in the Senate works."
"You see," Pareene wrote, "if you don't caucus with either party, you don't get committee assignments, and the committees are where the Senate actually does what little 'legislating' work it manages to get done." And for King, the fact that he was running as the guy who was so independent that he would sit in his Senate office all day and let the other 99 members shape legislation sort of gave the lie to his claim that he wanted to be "the most powerful voice for Maine possible."
Well, wouldn't you know, voters in Maine seem to be tiring of King's schtick. This is reflected in today's round of numbers from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), which finds the Maine Senate race to be "much closer than expected, with independent Angus King leading with 43% to 35% for Republican Charlie Summers, and 14% for Democrat Cynthia Dill."
This raises the question: is it reaching the point where King may need to more explicitly say he's going to organize as a Democrat if he wants to win this race? Per PPP:
It's reaching the point where King may need to more explicitly say he's going to organize as a Democrat if he wants to win this race. King is winning only 13% of the Republican vote at this point, but he's losing 26% of the Democratic vote to Dill. Among those already voting for King 64% want him to caucus with the Democrats if he's elected to only 9% who want him to side with the Republicans and 27% who are undecided. So he has more to gain by bringing Democrats voting for Dill into the fold than he does to lose by antagonizing his small number of Republican leaning supporters.
The good news, if you are King, is that you are quite obviously much more amenable to the policies of the Democratic Senate caucus than you are to those advanced by the Republican one. This has been rather exhaustively documented by the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman:
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.
In short, King is a bog-standard center-lefty Dem with a few progressive opinions on health care reform. This isn't anything the Republicans particularly want in their caucus, and, in fact, they are making no overt effort to woo King. Rather, they have attacked his record. In fact, as Michael McAuliff reported back in July, the National Republican Senatorial Committee "took the unusual step ... of touting the press release of" the Democratic nominee, State Sen. Cynthia Dill, urging Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) to support her bid.
The GOP just don't want the guy. So there's really no point, none whatsoever, for King to continue to cling to his weird and unnecessary stance against caucusing with the Democrats. Unless he's holding out for a primo parking space on Capitol Hill, or something, King is getting high on his own supply and needs to get grounded. Someone -- anyone! -- who cares about Angus King and wants to see him succeed needs to sit him down and explain what "caucusing" is and make him understand that it does not in any way threaten his desired "independence." If you want to help this man out, you can borrow this line from Pareene: "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."
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