By STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) — Angus King is keeping people guessing whether he would side with Democrats or Republicans as a U.S. senator.
But Maine's former two-term governor, running as an independent to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, calls the GOP budget plan "a disaster" and the party's position on women's health "a mistake. He's also supporting President Barack Obama's re-election.
"I want to keep 'em guessing," King told The Associated Press on Monday, the day he formally opened his state headquarters. "I think I can be much more effective by not making that decision and by postponing it as long as possible. I'd like to postpone it forever."
Speaking to hundreds of supporters who clogged his Brunswick office, King promised that Maine voters, not partisan politics, would guide his decisions on Capitol Hill. But he repeatedly criticized key Republican policies during the AP interview, suggesting that he is ideologically aligned with Democrats.
The state GOP seems to think the guessing game is over. It's attacking King for his former wind power company's loan guarantee. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already produced a negative Web video suggesting that King's candidacy is the result of a "smoke-filled back room deal."
The state's best-known Democrats have declined to enter the Senate contest for fear a divided Democratic electorate would allow for a Republican victory in a state that leans distinctly left. Snowe, a moderate Republican, has represented Maine in the Senate since 1995.
The Senate has 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and two independents who caucus with Democrats. Control of the Senate will probably be decided by a handful of races in November.
King supports Obama's health care overhaul, which is under Supreme Court review, and he supports abortion rights. While he likes to highlight his vote for George W. Bush in 2000 and his decision to veto the majority of Democrat-sponsored bills while governor, he is critical of the current GOP.
"The shift of the Republican Party to the right, particularly on the social issues, is disturbing," he said. "It's somewhat ironic to me that people who wrap themselves in the Constitution are so prepared to put the government in people's bedrooms."
King opposes GOP-led efforts to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He agrees with Obama's policy that forces insurance companies to cover contraception for employees of religious-affiliated institutions.
He saved his most heated comments, however, for the Republican budget plan — often known for its architect, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — that would effectively transform Medicare into a voucher program.
"It's a disaster. In a finite number of years, seniors will be back to where they were in 1955, which is sick and unable to get treatment," King said. "I don't know what they're thinking. Except, I think that proposal represents a strain of thinking that goes back to — they want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare."
Despite his vocal criticism of some Republican policies, King is promising to run a positive campaign. With control of the Senate at stake, he says he expects the campaign to get nasty.
"There's going to be a lot of negative stuff — not coming from me," King said. "No negative ads coming from this campaign whatsoever."
He's calling for more civility in national politics.
"It's about meeting in the middle," he said. "And yes, it's about compromise."
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