PORTLAND, Maine — A group of business leaders supporting independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King returned fire at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, calling a $400,000 advertising campaign the organization recently launched against the former Maine governor “misleading” and “disappointing.”

The high-profile U.S. Chamber campaign launched with a television spot labeling the former governor the “King of mismanagement” on Wednesday. King is facing Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers, as well as fellow independents Andrew Ian Dodge, Danny Dalton and Steve Woods, for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Olympia Snowe.

The business leaders who spoke during a Monday news conference at Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland claimed the Chamber’s TV spot oversimplified King’s record. Kevin Hancock, president of Casco-based Hancock Lumber, said he laughed the first time he saw the advertisement.

“The ad was so far off base and out of touch with Angus and out of touch with Maine, that I got a really good laugh,” said Hancock, who described himself as otherwise a supporter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s work. “To me, the ad is a cookie-cutter commercial that looks like it was made to run anywhere in the country. Just cut out a photo of the candidate you oppose, dump a few statistics into the commercial, buy some ad time and head off for the next market.

“I believe most people in Maine will find it offensive,” he continued, “and see it as a poster child example of big, clumsy, out-of-state money bringing negativity and divisiveness to a campaign Angus is completely committed to running honorably, respectfully and thoughtfully.”

U.S. Chamber officials and Maine Republicans on Monday defended the first ad in the Chamber campaign, arguing that King supporters have not been able to prove that at least one of the television commercial’s major claims — that state spending “skyrocketed” to $2.6 billion under his watch — is inaccurate.

King backers have, however, made the case that the $1 billion “budget deficit” the advertisement claims King left behind is untrue, as Maine’s Constitution requires a balanced budget each year. King’s campaign representatives have noted that the $1 billion figure corresponds to a structural gap between what the government planned for in the budget and what state revenues supported at the time.

The Chamber has endorsed Summers in the race.

Dan Lafayette, whose company Lafayette Hotels owns the venue at which the media event took place Monday, said Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency gave the state of Maine AA+ marks during the heart of King’s tenure in the Blaine House, from 1997 until 2001.

Lafayette joined Tom Gorrill of Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers Inc. on Monday in arguing that state spending increased under King because he was able to take advantage of a strong economy to make much-needed investments across the state.

“The economy grew significantly while he was governor, and he put some of that money back into infrastructure and helping plants get built and helping businesses grow,” Lafayette said. “He put money into schools, and he put money into the university system, but it was money the state of Maine was earning.”

Gorrill said King increased fourfold the amount of highway reconstruction work being done — to about 100 miles per year during his governorship — and reduced the state’s backlog of bridge repair and maintenance work from $443 million in 1995 to $210,000 in 2002.

Others who spoke at the media conference Monday lauded King’s work fast-tracking economic development — former National Semiconductor executive Paul Edmonds said King saw to it the company’s $1.2 billion factory was permitted in 29 days, preventing the facility from being built in Texas instead — as well as opening up international trade for Maine companies.

Hancock said King’s first international trade mission to Mexico represented his company’s first exploration of international business, a step that has grown into 25 percent of Hancock Lumber’s annual sales.

Lolisa Windover, general manager of Peru-based gasket manufacturer Winderosa, said her company’s international sales climbed from 10 percent of its annual business to 40 percent during King’s governorship.

“We called him ‘Mr. Export’ because that was what he really pushed,” she said.

Others who hailed King as a pro-business governor Monday were Hussey Seating President Tim Hussey, Maine Balsam Fir founder Wendy Newmayer and independent consultant and former National Semiconductor site manager Laurenz Schmidt.

King, who is on the board of directors of Hancock Lumber, was not present at the event.

Representatives of the Maine Republican Party stood behind the U.S. Chamber advertisement Monday, saying King and his supporters are attempting to muddy the former governor’s financial record.

“Angus really pulls for Mainers’ heartstrings claiming that the television ad ‘takes aim’ at his character,” a Maine GOP response states, in part. “Here again reality just doesn’t match up with King’s rhetoric. We know that King’s more used to coronations than he is elections, but voters asking questions about a candidate’s record is not character assassination. It’s democracy.”

The Republican Party also criticizes King supporters for chiding the Chamber campaign for its out-of-state origins, saying the former governor has “been to Washington at least twice to raise money from lobbyists, special interests and super lobbyists.”

“Angus King needs to defend his record just like anyone else who seeks elected office, and King’s visceral response to questions about his record only raises more questions,” the Maine GOP stated.

Rob Engstrom, the U.S. Chamber’s senior vice president and national political director, said the group’s recent ad “obviously struck a nerve.”

“Voters deserve to know where Gov. King will stand on key business issues and whether he will advance job-creating policies in the Senate to get our economy back on track,” Engstrom said in a statement Monday. “We are proud to have endorsed Charlie Summers and look forward to working with him to create jobs in Maine and boost the American recovery.”


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.