Angus King has won the Senate seat formerly held by Olympia Snowe in the state of Maine. Snowe famously announced she would not seek another term in March of this year, stating that partisanship and institutional dysfunction in the Senate had reached a point where she could no longer serve in the institution.
While the election of an independent would seem to be a rebuke of partisanship, this also signals a resounding defeat for the Republicans. A popular former governor in the state, King could just as easily classify himself as a centrist Democrat. It’s highly likely that he’ll caucus with the Democrats once he gets to Washington. (Though thus far, King has not been committed to either party.)
King is pro-choice. He supports the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare). In the interim between his governorship and his Senate run, he was involved in an alternative energy company called Independence Wind. He’s a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage. If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it might just be Angus King.
The victory really comes as no great surprise to those who had been watching the race. King had been leading his key opponents, Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster and Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill, by a healthy margin since the outset of the race.
Big money was a prominent feature in this race with Super-PACs figuring prominently in a wave of negative ads attacking King. Some out of state groups even adopted deceptive names such as Maine Freedom PAC while operating from Washington, D.C. Maine Freedom PAC, a group with conservative ties, took the unusual strategy of trying to split the center-left vote by supporting Democrat Cynthia Dill. However, outside money supported King as well. The group Americans Elect, which had mounted a campaign to have a nonpartisan presidential candidate earlier this year, had also injected over $1 million into the race in support of King.
What can we expect from King?
Angus King was ultimately rewarded for his centrism and so the possibility exists, at least, that he could be a senator who bucks the trend of hyper-partisanship which has characterized politics in the 112Congress. Speaking from his headquarters on election night King reiterated these claims, while also saying that he hoped to do what is best for the state of Maine.
King’s victory marks a rejoinder to partisan politics and to the power of national Super-PACs to shift the dynamics of local races with massive spending. The state of Maine has a distinctive political style, favoring pragmatism and focusing on bipartisan cooperation while shying away from ideological brinksmanship.
However, the political culture into which King enters is a toxic one. It will be interesting to see whether he can sustain this commitment to bipartisanship, and whether the political climate in Washington can offer any space to anyone seeking to rise above it.