By endorsing Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King is effectively nailing the coffin shut on the bid by Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows. King, who caucuses with Democrats, will endorse Collins in Skowhegan Friday before the Margaret Chase Smith Library, per The Associated Press.
“I think she’s one of the Senate’s MVPs — smart, tough, and always willing to listen. In my book, she’s a model senator and I’m delighted to support her re-election,” he told the AP.
Most of the time, endorsements are meaningless. That’s also true here in the sense that Team Collins was gearing up to steamroll over political newcomer Bellows and already had a broad lead in available polling.
But King’s OK of Collins as a leader for Maine stamps out the idea Collins should be fired by voters, a notion central to a successful Bellows bid. King’s endorsement signals to liberal-leaning independents and Democrats that Collins is no threat to their principles.
It should actually come as no surprise King, the still popular former two-term Maine governor, is offering Collins his support. Despite the fact that the two were once rivals – he beat her in the 1994 bid for the Blaine House in a three-way race – King and Collins have increasingly worked closely together in the Senate in attempts to broker deals between Republicans and Democrats on a variety of issues.
The endorsement also offers King a fig leaf to show how truly “independent” he is, by endorsing a Republican for Senate while caucusing with Democrats. It might not seem like much, but it’s a big deal as Democrats are scrambling to retain control of the body whilst Republicans are eager to swing the balance in their favor. A handful of races in places like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Kentucky are likely to decide how the dust settles post-Election Day.
In Maine though, it’s likely most voters who might have been on the fence or willing to at least hear from Bellows why Collins should be retired will see this as a green light to vote red. Already, the libertarian-minded Democrat has struggled to find a local issue to effectively attack Collins on, instead having to rely on more esoteric national ones around civil liberties and government domestic spying concerns.
What will be interesting to look out for, however, is if King decides to step into the gubernatorial race with an endorsement, as he did the last time around.
In 2010, King offered up a late-in-the-game endorsement for independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who is running again this year, against Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who like Collins is currently a colleague of King’s, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Endorsing Cutler would not likely move the needle much, because of his past support, but sitting out entirely would seem like a tacit pass on Cutler’s candidacy and an endorsement of Michaud would be a death knell for the independent’s bid.