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‘Maybe I Am In The Right Spot’ — Angus King Carves Out Middle Ground Between Senate Challengers

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Angus King takes a selfie while campaigning at Big G's in Winslow. The shop's "Gov. King" sandwich is made with ham, turkey, bacon, onions, Muenster and coleslaw.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is seeking re-election this year. He says he wants a second six-year term for many of the same reasons he got into politics more than two decades ago.

King’s first job in Maine after he moved here from his native Virginia was as an attorney at Pine Tree Legal in rural Somerset County. Later, while in private practice in Brunswick, he toyed with the idea of running in the 1st Congressional District.

In 1994 came an open race for governor. Just as Maine’s first independent Gov. James Longley had done, King cobbled together 36 percent of the vote, edging out former Democratic Gov. Joe Brennan and Republican Susan Collins.

“Establish once and for all that the government is here to serve the people and not the other way around,” he said in 1995, giving his inaugural address.

During his first term, King worked with Republicans on some issues, Democrats on others and sought the middle ground. It worked. In 1998 he was re-elected with over 58 percent of the vote and five candidates on the ballot.

After leaving office, he toured the country with his wife and two youngest children before returning to work in the private sector as a wind power developer. In 2012, when incumbent Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe suddenly decided to retire from the U.S. Senate, King ran as an independent against two party nominees and won with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

“When people come up to me on the street, the most common comment I get is, ‘Thank you for being reasonable and listening,’” he said recently, campaigning at a restaurant in Winslow where several patrons sought a photo or a handshake.

King says he is seeking a second term because there are a number of issues in play, including entitlement programs, that will affect a lot of Mainers in the next few years.

“I’m worried about Medicare and Social Security. We passed that big, unfunded tax cut, revenues are falling and deficits are going up, and I am already hearing noises out of Washington saying we got to reform entitlements, and that is code for cutting Social Security and Medicare,” he says.

King, 74, says he is in great health and has the energy and stamina to do the job for another six years. He makes light of comments about his age from his two thirty-something opponents, borrowing a line made famous by Ronald Reagan in a 1984 debate.

“I refuse to make their youth and inexperience an issue in this campaign,” he says. “I just don’t think that’s right.”

But he does say that Democrat Zak Ringelstein and Republican Eric Brakey are helping his campaign as they come at him from both sides.

“I am being criticized by one of my opponents for voting with President Trump too much, and the other one for not voting with him enough, so maybe I am in the right spot,” he says.

University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer thinks King may be threading the needle just right as an independent in an increasingly partisan political atmosphere.

“Not only is he the only independent that is likely to win, he is also the incumbent. And he’s in an entirely different category. He is a two-term governor, incumbent U.S. senator, incredibly popular,” he says.

King insists that he is taking nothing for granted and is campaigning as if he is behind in the race. And he says this is likely his last campaign, and he wants to make it a good one.

Originally published Oct. 23, 2018 at 4:36 p.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.