- 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.

The DSCC refuses to comment on why it is not supporting Mrs. Dill or whether its strategy involves tearing down Mr. Summers in hopes that it will help Mr. King win.

Instead, the DSCC has constrained itself to attacking Mr. Summers.

Charlie Summers is an anti-choice tea partier, who supports eliminating the Department of Education, privatizing Social Security, protecting tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and ending Medicare as we know it,” DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement circulated recently by the DSCC’s communications team. “Charlie Summers should not be in the United States Senate, and it is time every Mainer knows it.”

GOP strategy

For Republicans, the math is clear: They need to lower Mr. King’s level of support, and the easiest way to do that is to push some of his voters toward Mrs. Dill.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to push Mr. Summers‘ voters toward the center, which essentially means to Mr. King.

Last week’s ad could well do that.

Mr. Summers, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, called the commercial insulting.

“I saw it briefly. My father showed it to me,” he told The Times after a recent stump speech by the bar at Gritty McDuff’s, a landmark brewpub in Portland’s historic Old Port waterfront district. “It’s a total fabrication and an absolute distortion.”

He said it won’t be effective because “we’re speaking to the working people of this state, the people who work with their hands, the waitresses, the farmers, the truck drivers.”

“When Mainers look at me, hopefully, they see a little bit of themselves,” he said.

Democratic attacks

The DSCC is hoping the “extremist” label sticks, and it’s not the first time Mr. Summers has been accused of being outside the mainstream.

It’s one reason some analysts say Mrs. Snowe has refused to share any of the $2 million she had left in her campaign war chest — even though Mr. Summers was her state director from 1995 through 2004.

A staffer in Mr. Snowe’s office confirmed reports that the senator was miffed months ago when Mr. Summers failed to endorse her in running for a fourth term against a potential tea party candidate in the race.

Mr. Summers said such claims have “been blown way out of proportion.”

“Right after I got elected secretary of state in 2010, I received a call from a member of her staff who asked me to endorse her, and my knee-jerk reaction was sure,” Mr. Summers said.

But after thinking about it for a moment, he told Mrs. Snowe’s office that “I’m now the chief elections official in Maine. It wouldn’t be good for you; it wouldn’t be good for me. You know, don’t make me use my office officially to do that.”

Mr. Summers says he remedied the situation a few weeks later by speaking out on Mrs. Snowe’s behalf at a variety of preliminary campaign events in Maine before she ultimately announced that she would not seek another term.

Recent indications, however, are that she is still not over it.

While Mrs. Snowe was listed on the invitation as a co-host, according to a report by the Maine Sunday Telegram, she was nowhere to be seen at a fundraiser held by national Republican leaders for Mr. Summers in Washington last week.

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