PORTLAND, Maine — Six Republicans vying for their party’s nomination for U.S. Senate feel like they’re overshadowed by a candidate who won’t even be on next week’s primary ballot, and they’re united in their determination to make sure they put up a fight.
Maine’s field of GOP candidates includes all three constitutional officers — state treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state — along with a state senator, CEO of a corporate watchdog and a small-businessman.
But at times, it seems former two-term governor Angus King, an independent, has commanded all the attention.
The relentless spotlight on King has served to refocus the GOP’s determination to find the best candidate to beat King in November, said Rick Bennett, a former Maine Senate president and CEO of Portland-based GMI Ratings who’s one of the candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat.
“There was some flirtation with Angus King among some Republicans early on in this process when they thought about who to replace Olympia Snowe, but Angus’ enthusiastic endorsement of Barack Obama really put the brakes on that and made people stop and gave them pause,” Bennett said.
Snowe’s surprise announcement on Feb. 28 that she was abandoning her re-election bid sent candidates scrambling.
Within a week, King had decided he’d enter the race, joining what became a crowded field that now includes Bennett and five other Republicans, four Democrats and several other independents. Republicans and Democrats will choose their candidates in the June 12 primary.
King, a former Democrat, has come under attack by the GOP for refusing to say which party he’d caucus with and for his decision to support Obama’s re-election.
Largely ignoring the four Democrats, Republicans have focused most of their attention on King, painting him as a free-spending liberal and pointing out that he had a relatively easy time as governor because the dot-com bubble filled state coffers with revenue.
“I served in the Maine Legislature with Angus King and he was an affable, likable governor. He was well-liked because he never said no. He entered office with a surplus and left us with a billion dollar deficit,” said state Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden, one of the GOP candidates for Senate.
Another Republican candidate, Secretary of State Charles Summers, said King hasn’t demonstrated that he has the guts to make tough decisions and to cut spending.
“Angus King was at best a mediocre governor who had the good fortune to have served in great economic times when the toughest decision he had to make was how many laptops to buy,” Summers said, referring to a program that provided laptop computers to all Maine middle-school students.
King declined to respond to the attacks.
Republicans on the ballot have an impressive resume.
Attorney General William Schneider was a Green Beret who, after a spinal injury, became a state drug prosecutor, state legislative leader and federal anti-terrorism coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine.
Summers, who used to work for Snowe, served in the Legislature, owns a small business, served as regional administrator of the Small Business Administration and served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Navy Reserves.
State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has had success in business, with his privately owned partnership, Avatar Investors Associates Corp., managing nearly $5 billion in worker pension funds.
After leaving the Maine Legislature, Bennett transformed the Corporate Library into GMI Ratings, a research firm that focuses on corporate governance, and has offices in Portland, San Diego, New York and London.
Plowman co-owns a garage door business with her husband and has served 16 years in the Legislature.
And then there’s Scott D’Amboise, a small-business owner with tea party support who originally aimed to take on Snowe. Instead, he ended up with five competitors when she chose not to run.
Republicans are probably smart to focus their efforts on King, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
“They feel that if they can get more votes than Angus King that they’ll win and that the Democrats are an afterthought,” he said.
Of course, he added, that remains to be seen.