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“You have to choose with whom you are going to caucus in order to secure committee assignments,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, the Republican who holds Maine’s other Senate seat. “It’s just not realistic to go to Washington and say that you’re not going to caucus with either side.”

Mrs. Snowe declined to comment. But her spokesman, Chris Averill, said the retiring senator “believes people have a right to know” with whom Mr. King would caucus.

Centrist caucus

Mr. King said he would like to see the creation of a “centrist caucus,” not separate from the two parties, but like the geographic and issues-based caucuses on Capitol Hill, such as those representing Western states or rural interests.

He also intends to use his independence to try to force the debate in his direction.

“If you look at the Senate and the history of the recent years, four or five votes or six votes can be significant,” he said. “One vote can be significant.”

On many issues, he seems to straddle both parties.

He declined to comment on whether he advocates stiffer cuts to defense than those called for by the Obama administration but said there do need to be cuts.

“There are monies to be saved in defense by closing overseas bases,” he said. “I don’t understand why we have thousands of people in Germany and in Japan.”

On health care, he’s against repealing the president’s new national health law.

On energy, he thinks “getting off oil is a national imperative.” He supports natural gas “big-time,” but also believes strongly in government subsidies for research and development on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

On federal spending, Mr. King is decidedly down the middle, though at times he sounds like the most conservative of budget hawks: “The debt is a terrible problem, and it’s a national security issue,” he said. “We are literally spending our children’s money. Literally!”

But he also recalls a Maine voter who told him the George W. Bush-era tax cuts were not really tax cuts.

“When you cut taxes and don’t cut expenditures and borrow the difference, all you’re really doing is shifting that tax to your children and grandchildren because they’re going to have to pay for the borrowing,” Mr. King said. “I’d never thought about it that way, but that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

The smart thing is to keep one’s vote secret as long as possible, said Mr. King, who keeps a picture of former Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith on the wall of his campaign headquarters.

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