Voters in Maine Prefer Independent Candidate in Senate Race

With a long way to November, former two-term Maine Gov. Angus King leads the way in Senate race.

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Voters in Maine have a few months before the June primary when they'll choose what candidates will compete for retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe's seat. But, a preliminary poll released Friday reveals voters are maintaining their nonpartisan streak and leaning toward former Independent Governor Angus King.

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"Angus King is a popular person. In some ways, he fits with the kind of senator Maine people like," says Amy Fried, a University of Maine political science professor. "There is a tendency toward pragmatism, a we-have-to-get-it-done attitude, we want a candidate who makes it work."

In Maine, more than one-third of registered voters are unaffiliated with a party.

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"There is more polarization in Maine than there used to be, but it isn't at the same level as it is nationally," Fried says. "People in Maine like the idea of someone who can work with someone from either party."

In the state's primary on June 12, voters will have plenty of choices, as they select from six Republicans and four Democrats who are vying for their party's nomination.

The Maine People's Resource Center poll shows in a Senate primary, Democrats are split between state Sen. Cynthia Dill and former Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Republicans prefer Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers by a 2-to-1 margin.

King plays well even amongst Maine Democrats and leads in a matchup against Dunlap and Summers, earning 56 percent of the total vote. But the MPRC says the initial poll is far from conclusive.

"What these numbers mostly show is name recognition," MPRC Communications Director Mike Tipping says. "These results tell us where candidates are starting, not where they'll end up. Obviously, incumbents and those who have been in the public eye have an advantage at this point."

Having served as a two-term governor, King is well known in the state, but Fried warns fundraising could be a major stumbling block for the unaffiliated candidate. National parties donate thousands in competitive races and Fried says it's unknown how Super PACs could affect this year's race.

"At this point, the parties and people with Super PACs will have to decide where is the best place to put that money, but it could affect the race," Fried says. "Although, they would have to put a lot of effort into breaking him down."

King's approval rating in the state, nearly 10 years after he last held office, sits at 62 percent according to a March Public Policy Polling survey.

Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt admits King is a factor, but says there are lots of tough questions he has yet to answer before the November election.

"Maine has always had a tradition of having a strong independent streak," Reinholt says. "It is something that has to be factored in, but it isn't about who Mainers like now, it is about who voters like on Election Day. A lot of Mainers are concerned that he isn't saying who he is willing to caucus with."

It is the one question King has refused to speak about.

King told Politico that he'd answer only to Maine's voters, but added "it may make more sense to join the majority, whichever it is, and that would give me a stronger position on behalf of Maine."