- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maine delegates in town for the Democratic National Convention remained optimistic about the three-way Senate race in the Pine Tree State, gamely insisting the values of their candidate, Cynthia Dill, can still prevail even though centrist independent Angus King appears ready to run away with the race.

Political analysts, however, say they’re bluffing.

According to a RealClearPolitics.com survey of polls, Mr. King, a popular former independent governor, had 52 percent of the vote, with Republican nominee Charlie Summers, the state secretary of state, at 25 percent, and Ms. Dill, a member of the state Senate, who emerged from a four-candidate primary in June, far behind with 8 percent. No statewide polls have been made public since mid-June, however.

Democrats had originally eyed the seat as a prime pickup opportunity when Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe announced she would not run again, but Mr. King’s entry instantly scrambled the calculations.

Cynthia Dill is a good candidate, but she’s not going anywhere in this race,” said Kenneth Palmer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Maine. “The Democrats don’t want to make the same mistake they did in the last race.”

Independent candidates are not unusual in Maine politics, but in the 2010 gubernatorial race, Republican Paul LePage squeaked out a win because of the votes split between independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell.

Stan Gerzofsky, a Maine delegate and state senator from Brunswick, said he wasn’t worried about the poll, and called the worry of a 2010 repeat “phony.”

“I think those numbers are going to tighten up,” he said. “People don’t focus. They’re on vacation, or the children are going back to school. Then they start having outside influences, and they start focusing more, and people start realizing this is not 2010, and their votes are thrown away if they vote independent.”

University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried said the only way Mr. King’s votes could decline would be if “a lot of people went to vote for Dill instead.”

“People don’t want to take that chance,” she said. “I think Democrats in Maine are very loath to split the vote. The Democrats do not want another Republican to win.”

For his part, Mr. Summers said he expected a “single-digit race,” and if Democrats on the national level could not “support one of their own, that causes a lot of questions in voters’ minds.”

Another question hovering over the race is whether the Democrats quietly cede the seat to Mr. King to deny another Republican victory in a three-way contest.

Maine state Sen. Philip Bartlett said he’s confident in the party’s candidate.

“She’s putting together a strong campaign,” he said. “The real race is between Labor Day and Election Day. People have seen what Republicans in Congress have done, and they have an appetite for progressive values.”

Ms. Dill said in a phone interview that voters can’t decide “from a place of fear.”

“Obviously, this is not just a red and blue question,” she said. “I’ve run a lot of races, and you always run into people not supporting you.”

In July, Ms. Dill sent a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, politely reminding Ms. Murray that “votes — not personalities — will change policies to help American families.”

Ms. Dill’s tune has changed somewhat. On Wednesday, she said she had gotten a “very positive response” from her ongoing campaign efforts and developed “personal relationships” with many of the delegates.

Mr. King has not said with whom he would caucus — if at all — though the strong assumption is he will ally, at least unofficially, with the Democrats, if elected. A spokeswoman for Mr. King said he was “feeling support from both Democrats and Republicans.”

If the dynamics of a three-way race were not complex enough, a Republican-leaning political action committee recently ran ads in support of Ms. Dill.

Mr. Palmer called the ad blitz an “amusing act” designed to steal votes from Mr. King, and was the first of its kind he’d seen in Maine.

Emily Cain, the minority leader for the Maine House of Representatives, said among her Democratic colleagues the ads are something to laugh about, but “it goes to show in politics strange things can happen … and what big money in politics can do.”