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Maine Dems: King may not caucus with party

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Delegates from Maine say party leaders in Washington are overly confident that independent Senate candidate Angus King will vote to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.

These Democrats, who have known King for years, say there is a good chance he could vote to install Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as majority leader.

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Rita Moran, a delegate and the county committee chairwoman for Kennebec, said she has “absolutely no confidence at all” that King will caucus with Democrats if he wins retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R-Maine) seat.

“He’s telling nobody who he will caucus with and I think to expect voters of either party to support him he needs to be honest and he haesn’t done that,” she said.

Stan Gerzofsky, a delegate and a state senator from Brunswick, served in the legislature when King was Maine’s governor 12 years ago. 

“I thought he was more of a Republican governor,” he said.

“I think he did some very good things as governor but I also think he did a better job of representing the Republican business interests,” he added.

Political analysts say the battle for control of the Senate is a “jump ball” that could leave either party in the majority. Races in Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia are toss-ups.

When lawmakers gather after the election to organize the Senate majority, the Senate could be split 50-50 under various scenarios, leaving King, who is running as an independent in Maine, as the deciding vote.

If Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats control 49 and President Obama wins re-election, King could keep Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as majority leader if he caucuses with the Democrats. If Paul Ryan is the next vice president and Democrats have 50 seats in their column, King would put Republicans in the majority by caucusing with them.

Two independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.), caucus with the Democrats. For organizational purposes, they are counted as Democrats.

King could also decide not to caucus with either party, which would mean Democrats would lose a seat that counted as a pickup. But that would put him at a disadvantage since the party conferences allocate committee assignments and office resources.

“If he doesn’t commit, he’s going to end up sitting at a folding table in the parking lot,” said Pamela Fenrich, a delegate from Falmouth.

Senate Democratic leaders appear confident King will join their caucus.

“There’s only one state where the strong likelihood is there’s a pick-up. That’s Maine and that’s ours,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, told reporters in May.

Democratic aides in Washington cite several reasons they are convinced King will caucus with them. He served as an aide to Democratic Sen. William Hathaway from 1973 to 1975. And his son, Angus King III, served as a personal assistant to Erskine Bowles, who at the time was Bill Clinton’s deputy White House chief of staff. And King made his fortune building a green energy company, an industry Democrats have strongly supported.

Maine delegates think Washington insiders are counting him as an ally based on flimsy evidence.

“Even though everyone says he’s going to go Democrat, we’re not sure of that so we’re going to vote for who we really believe and that’s Cynthia Dill,” said Paul Davis, a delegate from Brewer, Maine.

Davis and every other delegate interviewed said they would vote for Cynthia Dill, the underdog Democratic candidate, whom Washington strategists give little chance of winning.

“He wasn’t a friend of labor. He was against the minimum wage, he was against the state employees association or made it hard for them, harder for them they already had,” he said.

Control of the Senate will be crucial to Republican efforts to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act if Mitt Romney wins. The GOP needs to control the agenda if they are to use special procedural tactics to unwind the law by a simple majority vote.

Some Maine Democrats are suspicious of King’s stance on healthcare policies.

“I don’t see him supporting moving President Obama’s healthcare policies forward,” said Sara Stalman, a delegate and physician from Brooklin, Maine.

Stalman, who volunteers for Dill, blames King for blocking the implementation of a single-payer government healthcare plan in Maine.

Crystal Canney, King’s communications director, said her boss believes states should not “go it alone” on healthcare reform because “he sees it as a federal issue”.

She declined to comment on complaints about King’s record on labor issues.