Pressure builds on Maine’s Angus King to pick a caucus

Pressure is mounting on Angus King, Maine’s former Independent governor, to declare which party he will support if elected to replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

State Sen. Cynthia Dill, one of four Democrats vying for the nomination, launched an online petition urging King to make his proclivities known. But King has firmly defended his independence and said he might not caucus with either party.

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“Maine voters deserve to know who their next U.S. senator is going to support to lead the Senate,” Dill told The Hill. “I just can’t imagine an informed electorate would not want to know that until after the election.”

Almost 1,000 people had signed Dill’s petition by midday Monday, and almost all of them listed cities in Maine as their place of residence.

When major Democratic candidates — including two House members — bowed out of the race for Snowe’s seat in early March,

Republicans quickly charged that King must have struck a deal with Democrats to caucus with them, potentially handing Democrats control in an evenly divided Senate.

Both King and Democrats have rejected the idea that any agreement had been reached.

Snowe’s seat is well within reach for Democrats, and a win there would help the party stave off a Senate takeover by Republicans, who need to flip four seats to retake the majority (if President Obama is reelected). But polling suggested that in a three-way race among King, a Democrat and a Republican, King would siphon votes away from the Democrat, allowing the Republican to prevail.

A handful of Republicans have also launched bids for the seat. But their prospects for winning could hinge on whether Democrats give any real support to their nominee, or whether they cast their lot with King and hope he repays them by supporting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“It’s clear that Angus King is under pressure to tell the voters in Maine what Democrats in Washington appear to already know, which is Harry Reid seems to have his vote in his pocket,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has said it will stay neutral in the primary, but its chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), has not ruled out the committee’s backing King. Dill said her conversations with the DSCC’s political department “have been very positive” and that she has no idea what the committee will do in the primary.

Although King has maintained that he will avoid caucusing with either party if possible, and suggested he could swing back and forth depending on the issue, in actuality he will have to make a decision shortly after the election — at the very latest.

The Senate Historical Office said parties make committee assignment recommendations as early as December, and that in the past, newly elected members have selected a party by that point so as to be eligible for assignments.

“If the governor knows who he’s going to support and is not telling us, that’s not the kind of change I’m looking for in Washington,” Dill said. “If he doesn’t know, it strikes me as even more concerning.”

King’s campaign declined to comment. But the former governor announced Monday that he had hired two new campaign staffers — one a Democrat, the other a Republican. The move suggested that King plans to continue offering few hints about where — if anywhere — his loyalties will lie if he wins the seat.