- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said Wednesday that she decided against running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Olympia J. Snowe, choosing instead to defend her House seat.

Ms. Pingree, who represents Maine’s southern coastal district and was considered one of her party’s top hopes of capturing the seat, said it was a difficult decision. In the end, she concluded that she can best serve Maine by running for re-election to the House, she said.

“There is much at stake in this election, and in the end I had to put the best interests of the state and the country ahead of my own,” she said in a statement.

Left unsaid was the fact that if she entered the Senate race, Ms. Pingree would have faced her longtime friend, popular former Gov. Angus King, who announced he’s running as an independent. Her decision not to run could mean more Democratic support for Mr. King, who if elected would be courted by both parties to join their Senate caucus.

“This is a personal relief to me because I wasn’t looking forward to running against a friend,” Mr. King said in a statement.

Ms. Snowe, a moderate Republican, announced last week that she wouldn’t seek a fourth term, citing frustrations over partisan politics and gridlock in the Senate. Her decision set off a scramble by potential candidates since Republicans and Democrats have only until March 15 to submit 2,000 signatures to get on the June primary ballot.

National Republicans, without offering specific proof, accused top Democrats in Washington on Wednesday of pushing aside Ms. Pingree, who has strong support from progressives, in favor of Mr. King, who is a popular figure in the state after serving two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003.

Republicans suspect Democratic leaders may have won some type of assurance from Mr. King that he would align himself with the party.

“The decision by national Democrats to throw Chellie Pingree and other proud Democratic leaders in Maine aside, in favor of an ‘independent’ who supported President Bush in 2000, makes clear they are more concerned with holding onto power in Washington than trying to advance their own party’s principles,” Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.

The top Senate Democrat in Washington has denied having any discussions with Mr. King.

Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, was asked at the Capitol if he had spoken at all with Mr. King. “No, I’ve never spoken to anyone named ‘Angus,’ ” he told reporters.

One possible Democratic candidate for Ms. Snowe’s seat is former two-term Gov. John Baldacci, who is collecting signatures but has yet to make a final decision, said spokesman Dan Cashman. Four other Democrats are already in the race, but some said they’d consider stepping aside if Ms. Pingree chose to run.

On the GOP side, previously announced candidate Scott D’Amboise now faces the prospect of four or more GOP competitors, including former state Sen. Rick Bennett. They could be joined by additional candidates including Maine Secretary of State Charles E. Summers Jr., Attorney General William J. Schneider and Treasurer Bruce L. Poliquin.



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