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Poll: Angus King Narrow Top Contender in Maine U.S. Senate Race
03/06/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Less than 24 hours after announcing his independent candidacy for the U.S. Senate, former Maine Gov. Angus King is leading in a poll that shows some disappointing results for other potential bidders. The Public Policy Polling survey gives King a narrow lead in a three-way contest against potential Democratic challenger 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers. Political scientists say the poll strongly suggests that King's opponents will have their work cut out for them.

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Poll: Angus King Narrow Top Contender in Maine U. Listen

It's been 14 years since former Gov. Angus King last ran for public office. Yet a recent poll shows that the Brunswick independent continues to outpace any of the potential candidates he would face in his bid to succeed Republican Olympia Snowe as Maine's next U.S. Senator.

University of Maine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer thinks he knows why. In fact, King reminds Brewer of another politician. "And that's Bill Clinton," Brewer says. "Both King and Clinton were extremely popular when they left office and that spoke to how people evaluated them as individual public office holders, and also how they evaluate how they had done their job."

North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,256 Mainers statewide through automated telephone interviews during last weekend. The poll, which has a margine of error of 2.8 percent, included 550 Democrats and 369 Republicans who said they usually vote in primaries. The remaining respondents were unenrolled voters who identify as independents.

Although King had not declared his candidacy when the poll was conducted, he was the preferred choice of 36 percent of those surveyed when matched with Democratic 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who followed with 31 percent, and Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who trailed with 22 percent.

Colby College Political Science Professor Sandy Maisal says King's showing is more than just a snapshot in time. "One of the questions that's answered is whether people remember who Gov. King was, and that seems to be a resounding 'yes' -- that a very high percentage do remember him and they remember him fondly," Maisal says.

What the poll does not indicate is how Pingree might proceed. She is still weighing whether or not enter to the race for the U.S. Senate and risk her status as an incumbent Maine congresswoman in the process. Although the poll shows Pingree finishing closely behind King, it also gives her a mixed review, with 47 percent of those surveyed saying they have a favorable opinion of her, and 41 percent saying they view her unfavorably. Twelve percent were undecided.

That compares to King's whopping 62 percent favorability rating -- this from a governor who left office 10 years ago -- and an unfavorable rating of 24 percent, with 14 percent undecided. Among Democrats, Pingree was the hands-down choice, with 52 percent favorability. But UMaine's Mark Brewer shared the concerns of several State House Democrats, who believe now that King is in, Pingree's out.

"It would surprise me if she went for it at this point out," he says. "Out of all the candidates that we're talking about here, she's got the most to lose. I mean, she's giving up a safe House seat to make this run. If she makes this run and loses, her future in Maine politics becomes a lot less clear. On the other hand, if she decides to sit this Senate race out, she stays in the House, then her future remains wide open."

The Public Policy Poll did not give high marks to former Democratic Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who is said to be weighing a U.S. Senate bid. Baldacci had a favorability rating of 37 percent and unfavorable ratings of 52 percent with 10 percent undecided.

Professor Sandy Maisal of Colby College' says the contrasts between King and Baldacci are striking over the last 10 years.
"Subtract eight years from that and you get Gov. Baldacci, and a very high percentage do remember him and they remember him somewhat less fondly," Maisal said.

Republicans appear to have the most ground to recover in the Senate race. Secretary of State Charlie Summers has the highest favorability rating of 22 percent, but his unfavorable rating is 32 percent--and 46 percent were not sure what they think of him. The political science professors agree that when Maine Senate President Kevin Raye opted to run in the 2nd Congressional District, Republicans lost their high-profile contender.

But Assistant GOP House Majority Leader Andre Cushing says there's still plenty of time for his party -- and that having King in the race is not a bad thing for Republicans. "His division within those who would typically vote Democratic is much stronger," he says. "As a result of that, having a three-way race will, I believe, favor the Republican candidate, depending on who the Republican candidate is," Cushing says.

Calls made to Public Policy Polling were not returned by air time.


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