PORTLAND, MAINE – Angus King is trying to turn back time in this state. I hope he can do the same across the country.
In a speech Saturday morning, the self-made millionaire-turned-independent politician deftly displayed the qualities that helped him serve as a popular two-term governor here from 1995 to 2003. The 68-year-old hailed Abraham Lincoln, Bill Bellichick, Sam Walton and his teenage son in a 30-minute talk that made the audience at the Maine Historical Society’s annual meeting howl with laughter. King was a self-deprecating, pragmatic and non-partisan everyman, a character type that flinty and fiercely independent Maine voters have sent to Washington for decades.
But as in the rest of the nation, politics in Maine have dramatically changed in recent years. The state’s dynamic new political force is Governor Paul LePage, a take-no-prisoners, Tea Party-backed conservative Republican. Since winning a three-way race for governor with 39 percent of the vote in 2010, LePage has assailed public employee unions, unleashed blistering attacks on his opponents and delighted his conservative Republican base. Like them or not, the Tea Party has out-organized its rivals and gained an outsize voice.
King, a former Democrat who now rejects both Republican and Democratic dogma, is either an anachronism or a sign that some voters are tiring of partisanship. Keep in mind that a record number of Americans – 40 percent – identified themselves as independent in a January Gallup poll; 31 percent identified as Democrats and 27 percent as Republicans.
For now, King is the favorite to win the Senate race. And in one unlikely but possible scenario, he could be the deciding vote in an evenly divided Senate.