King endorsement opens field day for pundits

In a politically unusual move, independent Sen. Angus King, who almost always lines up with the Democrats, endorsed Republican Sen. Susan Collins for re-election.

President George W. Bush labeled forecasting the political future based on today’s events as “punditry,” and King’s move was just the kind of tidbit pundits like.

While I make no claim to being a pundit, the endorsement stimulates some tantalizing speculation about Maine politics this year. Not only is King-Collins worth a closer look, but so are other Maine campaigns. But it’s little more than guesswork at this stage.

King endorsed Collins, providing her support she had not sought or almost certainly did not need. He told Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows his endorsement was not “personal.” Maybe not for Bellows, but quite personal for King.

An explanatory note for what follows. The U.S. Senate is controlled by the majority party. The party “organizing” the Senate gets to name committee chairs and determine the flow of Senate business.

Right now, the Democrats control. The sole GOP legislative power is to filibuster to prevent matters from coming to a vote. And even that power has been cut, making it difficult to block most presidential nominations.

Independent King now backs Democratic control. But the pundits say the GOP could well organize the Senate next year. Does King’s endorsement mean he will change sides to keep prime committee slots?

He says that he will do what’s best for Maine. Could anything be better to benefit his state than his keeping prime committee positions?

If the Democrats keep control, they may be less favorable to him simply because he endorsed a GOP senator. No matter how much he tries to straddle the gap by pushing his independent status, he may find there’s a price to pay for such a strategy.

Collins looks sure to be re-elected. Does the King endorsement hurt Bellows?

Like many endorsements, it may not matter much except to the person making the endorsement. Already the underdog, one might wonder if Bellows is even discouraged. Why is she running in such a difficult race?

If she already recognizes how difficult it would be to win, perhaps gaining recognition and respectability will help her in another race for another office later on. That’s what Collins did when she finished third in the governor’s race.

Is there anything Bellows can do this time around? Instead of trying to defeat Collins on the issues, maybe she should find a single issue, keep hammering it, and become identified with it.

The key issue could be that Collins, considered a moderate, helps give Senate control to the GOP and supports most filibusters, thus empowering fellow Republicans far more conservative than she is.

As for King’s endorsements, he’s not finished yet. He seems likely to endorse Eliot Cutler, candidate for governor and like him an independent leaning toward the Democrats.

Cutler thought about running as an independent for the Senate seat King eventually won. Instead, he endorsed King, who probably gained access to Cutler’s supporters list. Repaying the favor, King would endorse Cutler and return to him an updated list.

Looking at the governor’s race itself, we are continually reminded that Paul LePage won only because the opposition vote was split between Cutler and the Democrat. Supporters of either of them have almost certainly learned their lesson.

That means the anti-LePage voters will recall 2010 and begin to rally around either Democrat Mike Michaud or Cutler. Once the flow starts toward one of them, it should keep on going.

Which way? Who knows, but having won repeatedly in the Second Congressional District, Michaud has political money in the bank. Cutler will presumably press hard to win big in the seemingly more liberal First District.

The Second District race, to fill the seat left vacant by Michaud, has primary contests in both parties. The candidates in each party probably wouldn’t differ much from one another if they got to the House of Representatives.

But in the GOP, candidate Bruce Poliquin is trying hard to show he is more conservative than Kevin Raye. In the Democratic race, candidate Emily Cain is trying hard to show she is more liberal than Troy Jackson.

The outcome of those primaries and the ensuing general election may end up telling Mainers a lot about the political complexion of their state.

One thing worth noting. It’s at least theoretically possible that, when the electoral dust settles, women could hold three of Maine’s four federal offices.

Remember, though, this is all just guesswork, not punditry.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.