The Senate Democrat in charge of protecting her party’s majority said she feels good about their prospects in Maine, but wouldn't say which candidate she's backing in the race to replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R).
"We're talking to a lot of people on the ground in Maine,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) told The Hill. “[Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell's [(Ky.)] already said that he has written Maine off, so I feel very good about it.”
"About our prospects in Maine,” she said. “I'm just going to leave it at that."
Democrats continue to play coy about their plans in Maine, where former Gov. Angus King — an independent — is the early front-runner in the race. Snowe’s unexpected announcement in February that she would retire created Democrats’ strongest pickup opportunity — until King jumped into the race.
Both parties suspect King will caucus with Democrats if elected, but King has adamantly refused to telegraph his intentions. His decision could determine the balance of power in a closely divided Senate in 2013.
Four Democrats and six Republicans competed in their respective primaries for Snowe’s seat, giving Democrats a few months of breathing room to claim they were waiting for the primary to play out.
That explanation expired on Tuesday when Dill, a state senator, won the Democratic nomination, beating out three other Democrats despite raising a paltry amount of money.
Dill told The Hill on Wednesday that at some point, she will definitely need to know whether Democrats in Washington are truly behind her.
“The party in Maine is clearly behind me. I think that's very important, and I hope to earn the support of my colleagues in the national Democratic Party,” Dill said. “I think there’s excitement here for the message we fought for in the campaign, which is sticking to core Democratic values and not being anything other than a strong Democrat.”
Dill said her campaign was shifting into general-election mode and preparing to defeat King and the GOP nominee, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers. She said her campaign would make clear for voters that King has been unwilling to be straight with voters about which party he will back if he wins.
“If he sticks with ‘I’m not going to tell you,’ I’m not sure who wins,” Dill said. “Certainly not your average Maine person looking for a strong voice in the U.S. Senate.”
Democrats in Maine have said they will work to support their nominee, but acknowledge that many Democratic voters will likely cast ballots for King in November.
In Washington, Democrats say the prospect of having one fewer GOP senator without having to spend big to get it would be like a freebie for Democrats. That calculus relies on two assumptions: that King won’t decide to caucus with Republicans, and that the risk is low that King and Dill will split the liberal vote in a three-way race and hand the seat to Summers.
"It's fine for Angus King and Democratic leaders in Washington to step out from their smoke-filled back room and admit the obvious: that this is a race between two liberal Democrats and a true independent leader in Charlie Summers," said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.
King, if elected, would be one of two independent senators. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a centrist who caucuses with Democrats, is retiring. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is considered more liberal than most Senate Democrats but still caucuses with them, is expected to easily win reelection this cycle.
Sanders said he didn’t know that much about King and his record, but that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing for the Senate to have a second independent member.
“It depends on the kinds of views that he's espousing,” Sanders said. “The answer is it depends.”