- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine — Sen. Olympia J. Snowe’s decision to retire this year, citing “polarization” in Washington, shocked Maine voters and set off a crazy scramble between would-be successors — including a fellow Republican who is feuding with Mrs. Snowe, an independent former governor who vows to try to work with both parties and a Democrat whose own party doesn’t particularly want to see her do well.

Heading into the homestretch, the race is increasingly laced with harsh undertones.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week began running ads featuring Republican Charlie Summers‘ campaign head shot juxtaposed against a group of well-dressed white men marching in zombielike unison, with the stern-voiced announcer asserting that there is a “parade of Washington extremists and Charlie Summers wants in.”

Mr. Summers, who was elected secretary of state in the tea party wave of 2010, says the DSCC’s decision to come after him is simple: “Our campaign has caught fire, and we’ve got momentum, and they’re trying to knock us down.”

Mr. Summers is banking on an insider poll commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which showed that former Gov. Angus King’s longtime 10-point lead slipped to less than 4 percentage points last week.

But the Real Clear Politics average of polls still gives Mr. King, an independent, a big advantage over Mr. Summers, 45.5 percent to 31 percent, with the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, trailing far back at 13.8 percent.

Those numbers could explain why national-level Democrats are refusing to back their own candidate. But it’s a reality that has many Mainers — and even Mrs. Dill — scratching their heads.

“They’re not endorsing me, and so far they haven’t endorsed anybody,” she told The Washington Times, although she added that to go so far as to describe her as the party’s “sacrificial lamb” in the Maine race would be “a little too strong.”

“I don’t know what their strategy is,” said the first-term state senator. “This race has been bizarre from the get-go.”

Change of plans

Republicans had been counting on three-term incumbent Mrs. Snowe to retain the seat for the GOP, easing their path back to regaining the majority they lost in 2006. Her retirement complicated those plans.

Then Mr. King, who served two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003, entered the race, upsetting the usual two-party dynamic, and complicating matters for Democrats in particular.

Republicans say the reason is clear — Mrs. Dill can’t win, and Mr. King leans liberal and likely would be an ally for Democrats if he is elected.

But Mr. King is adamantly refusing to tell anybody which party caucus he plans to join once he gets to Washington, which makes it all the more curious that Democrats are pumping $2 million into the race to block Mr. Summers.

“As soon as Angus put his name in, it certainly appeared as if the Democratic Party conceded the seat,” said Tom Ledue, an educator in Southern Maine who has had an insider eye on the state’s politics since his unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate four years ago on the Democratic ticket.

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