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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Targets Maine Senate Race
07/26/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of Republican Senate candidate Charlie Summers, and launched a negative ad targeting independent Angus King. The ad paints King, the former governor of Maine, as a big spender who left Maine in debt after eight years in office. The ad campaign has created some heartburn for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which does not endorse political candidates. Meanwhile, another state business group says the U.S. Chamber should stay out of Maine politics.

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Maine is one of 11 states targeted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in this year's Senate races. And after formally endorsing Republican Charlie Summers as its choice to succeed retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, the chamber is making it clear who it doesn't support in a statewide ad that is expected to run for at least the next 10 days.

Clip from ad: Angus King--independent? His record tells a different tale. Angus King--he's the King of spending...."

King says he is astonished at the message and tone of the ad. "Of all the people to come after me, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hilarious because I spent 24 hours a day for eight years working to try to bring more jobs to Maine and work with Maine businesses," King says.

But King also says he is more concerned about who is paying for the ad that about what's in it.

"They're a non-profit, we don't know who their donors are, we don't know who's really paying for these ads and I think we should," King says. "I mean, if you go to Maine town meeting, you're not allowed to stand up and have a bag over your head, you've got to say who you are and have the courage of your convictions. These guys are anonymous, faceless, we have no idea of who they are. We do know they're from outside of maine and they're trying to tell us how to vote."

While King predicted the chamber's attack would have little impact in the state, the national business group's ad campaign may have generated some collateral damage.

"If the headline reads 'chamber,' you immediately will associate that with all of us," says Dana Connors. Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, a statewide business group that does not endorse political candidates,
While Connors says that the U.S. Chamber has every right to support or oppose candidates, he wants to make sure Mainers know the state chamber has no connection with any of the national group's ads.

"These elections affect us, but it's clearly a policy that we do not get into the national election efforts, we stay out of it," Connors says. "We have our hands full right here in the state dealing with issues and that's how we see ourselves being the most productive."

The national chamber's ads also created a personal level of discomfort for Connors, who served as chair of King's transition team in 1994 before assuming his position at the state chamber. Connors supported many of King's business initiatives as governor that brought new jobs to the state.

"In truth his door was open to the business community and he was a great spokesman for the state in terms of being a communicator and he worked with us very well. And that's the truth," Connors says. "And I'd say that about anybody -- any candidate -- but it does not translate into this organization is now standing up to endorse any candidate."

Charlie Summers, the GOP candidate for the Senate, says he appreciates the national chamber's endorsement and says that the group's independent expenditure in Maine was outside of his control.

"The chamber will do what they see fit, as will any other group, and we just to have to stay focused on our campaign," Summers says.

The U.S. Chamber ad was blasted by the Maine Small Business Coalition. The group's director, Kevin Simowitz, says "the Chamber is an interest group for large out-of-state and multi-national corporations, especially health insurance companies."

The U.S. Chamber did not return calls by airtime.


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