Independent Senate candidate Angus King a mystery to those outside Maine

As an independent in Maine, Angus KingAngus Stanley KingHillicon Valley: Judge approves AT&T-Time Warner deal in blow to DOJ | Dems renew push to secure state voting systems | Seattle reverses course on tax after Amazon backlash | Trump, senators headed for cyber clash | More Tesla layoffs Trump, senators headed for clash on cyber policy For .2 billion, taxpayers should get more than Congress’s trial balloons MORE governed as an economically oriented centrist, a champion of entrepreneurship and development who avoided getting bogged down by divisive social issues.

Almost nothing is known outside of the state about King, the two-term former governor-turned-front-running candidate to replace Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Since jumping in the race last week, King has walled himself off from the national media and refused to say which party he will caucus with if elected.

But with King the early leader in a Senate race that could determine the balance of the upper chamber, both parties are now scouring his record for signs of how King would vote if he came to Washington.

King’s spokesman said he was unavailable for an interview. But a review of his two terms as governor reveals a fiscally conservative politician with a more liberal bent on social issues, education and the environment.

“King is still very popular. People look back on his two terms pretty fondly,” said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.

After growing up in Virginia, King attended law school there and then moved to Maine, where he hosted a public television show for almost two decades. A former Democrat, King worked as an aide to former Sen. William Hathaway (D-Maine) in the 1970s.

King ran a company focused on energy conservation, and a Bangor Daily News report from 1994 showed he sold that company for $20 million just before running for his first term.

He ran for governor in 1994 and won in a four-way race, beating out both former Gov. Joseph Brennan (D) and now-Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDHS secretary defends Trump administration's migrant policies White House faces growing outcry over migrant family policies GOP senators push for clarification on migrant family separations MORE (R). King ran on an outsider platform, railing against politics as an insider’s game. Both Collins’s and King’s campaigns focused on lower taxes, limited government and economic development. 

“He is a lawyer and a millionaire (from the sale of a company he founded) who spent $900,000 of his own money to get elected,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in an editorial that year. “But he’s a ‘down-home’ kind of candidate in other ways. He lives in a modest two-story house and notes that the big-ticket item in the family budget was vinyl siding.”

As governor, King hunkered down on state issues, rarely wading into the more partisan national issues he will likely face if elected to the Senate. He took a center-right approach to fiscal issues, which consumed most of his attention. He reduced the state workforce, cut the budget and sped up environmental permitting to attract business.

“You say I’m a moderate. I consider myself a pragmatist,” King told PBS in 2005. “I’m for what works. I think there’s a path there not only to political success, but to trying to solve some problems.”

On social issues, King is widely believed to share most positions with Democrats. But he placed no emphasis on waging culture wars, preferring to take a lower-profile stance on hot-button topics.

“It’s not that he’s not interested or not concerned,” said Dennis Bailey, a former aide to King. “I just don’t think you’ll see him championing any social issues. It’s more economic, business, entrepreneurial kind of stuff he’s much more concerned about.”

Education and the environment were major focuses for King, and former aides said they anticipated he would bring that interest to the Senate. King tightened regulations on chemicals discharged into rivers, and fought for hydro- and wind-based energy sources.

“He certainly was on the left side of the spectrum on environmental issues,” said Brewer. “But that’s not as big of a problem here in Maine.”

Kay Rand, King’s former chief of staff, said education was King’s biggest passion, and that he was energized by his efforts to get one-to-one technology ratios into Maine’s classrooms. He launched a groundbreaking program in 2002 to provide a laptop for every middle-school student. Additionally, he developed a community mental health system and overhauled Maine’s corrections system.

He also drove a motorcycle regularly while in office — to the ire of his security detail.

“The thing that characterized Angus as a governor is he has an insatiable curiosity,” Rand said. “It was hard to pinpoint him, as a lot of people like to be the ‘education governor’ or the ‘technology governor,’ because he tapped a lot of balls in the air.”

Democrats in Washington have opted to make way for King — whom they hope will caucus with them — rather than to aggressively recruit a Democratic candidate who could split the vote and hand the seat to Republicans. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' Senate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult MORE has donated $5,000 to each of the four potential GOP contenders, the committee said Tuesday.

A number of other candidates weighing a run against King for Snowe’s seat have taken out petition papers but haven’t officially announced a campaign. Those candidates have until Thursday to make a decision.