FREEPORT, Maine — Independent former Gov. Angus King took an early lead and cruised to victory Tuesday in the race to become Maine’s next U.S. senator, eight months after Olympia Snowe shocked the political establishment by announcing she wouldn’t seek another term.
King had claimed 54 percent of the vote with 15 percent of precincts reporting. Republican Charlie Summers trailed with 30 percent while Democrat Cynthia Dill had the support of 13 percent of votes.
Independents Andrew Ian Dodge, Danny Dalton and Steve Woods each captured about 1 percent of the vote.
In his victory speech at a Freeport hotel at about 9 p.m., where he was greeted by bagpipes, King said that Maine voters sent a clear message that they want less division in politics.
“They’re tired of the false choice that always seems to confront them,” he said. “As a guy said on this campaign, ‘I always wanted a chance to vote for none of the above. And you’re it.’”
King joked that former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove invigorated his campaign with new energy when his group Crossroads GPS started airing anti-King ads this fall.
“I spent a lot of time promoting Maine and Maine tourism,” said the former two-term governor, “and I’ve never said this, but I hope that man never comes to Maine.”
Summers conceded the race around 10:40 p.m. before family members and supporters at the Portland Regency Hotel.
“We have a very difficult situation that this country faces, and I think it’s critical that we line up behind our representatives,” Summers said. “Sen.-elect King certainly needs our support.”
Thanking his family, Summers alluded to his three previous unsuccessful runs to represent Maine’s 1st District in Congress. “They’ve been with me through a number of elections, a number of these announcements, unfortunately,” he said.
Snowe, who largely sat out the race although Summers served as her state director for nine years, issued a congratulatory statement to King just after 9 p.m., well before Summers had conceded.
“I have known Angus for many years and worked closely with him on issues critical to Maine during his two terms as governor,” she said. “I know he cares deeply about Maine people and the future of our nation.
“We had a very good conversation — I offered anything I could do to assist him with a smooth transition, and we will be meeting toward that end in the near future.”
Sen. Susan Collins, who will be Maine’s senior senator, also congratulated King, saying, “I’m sure that Angus and I will be meeting soon to discuss committee assignments and how we can work together to meet the challenges facing our state and our nation.”
It was an election contest that, at the start of the year, political observers didn’t think would happen and that the national Republican Party didn’t think it would have to worry about losing.
Snowe’s late-February departure had prominent Maine politicians on both sides of the aisle weighing a Senate bid. But on the Democratic side, big names like former Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud ultimately backed away when independent former Gov. Angus King threw his hat into the ring.
While King was an early favorite and maintained a lead in every poll taken in the Senate race, Republicans and affiliated groups didn’t make the campaign an easy one for him.
Nearly $7.4 million poured into the state from outside groups, with more than half — $4.24 million — paying for advertising designed to peel support away from King and boost Summers.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the first in a string of right-leaning groups to launch an ad offensive against King in an effort to cut into his favorability and create an opening for Summers, the Chamber’s endorsed candidate. The U.S. Chamber spent $1.35 million on three separate ad campaigns that attacked King for his fiscal record during his two terms as governor.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee also joined the anti-King ad wars in September, with accusations related to King’s wind energy business before King boosters shot back.
While King hasn’t revealed intentions to caucus with either party if elected, national Democrats have largely expected him to caucus with them.