BRUNSWICK — Nearly a decade after declaring he wasn't likely to again pursue elected office, former Gov. Angus King announced Monday night that he will make a run at the U.S. Senate.
King, 67, made his announcement to an overflow crowd during his lecture to Bowdoin College students about the Cuban Missile Crisis. If there were any metaphors that could be derived from that Cold War-era standoff and a highly anticipated political decision it was this: The country, King said, was in trouble.
It would take informed — indepenent — decision making to lead the country out of its malaise.
King said a paralyzed political system that forced out U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, showed that it was time to make a change. King, who will run as an independent, said he could make a difference.
"The best they (Washington) could do was to force an extraordinary woman (Snowe) out of town," said King, adding that Snowe's decision last week to abandon her re-election bid had prompted him to enter the race.
Snowe last week decried the disappearance of the "sensible center" from Beltway politics. The veteran pol said she left because she no longer saw a way to get anything accomplished.
King acknowledged the same partisan obstacles, saying they had led to the "paralysis of our political system." However, in a rhetorical turn similar to those he often deployed in securing two terms as governor, King said the only way to break to partisan divide may be to send an independent.
"I can be a broker for common sense," he said.
He added, "I just might scare them. Maine would be sending a message . . . if they don't get their act together they'll be sending more people like me."
King offered few details on his policy platform. The private wind developer said the country needed to change an energy infrastructure that was built on the promise of cheap oil. Those days, he said, are over.
He vaguely reference a broken education system and unaffordable health care.
King has some time to develop his platform. He has until June 1 to submit 4,000 signatures to get on the November ballot.
King's entrance in the race will have a profound effect on the dynamic of the upcoming race, which was thrown into chaos following last week's announcement by Snowe that she would not seek re-election.
Since then, the field of potential candidates has been flooded with those seeking to fill the void. King told the Sun Journal last week that he was weighing a run.
King will also change the political calculus of the candidates in the field, especially for Democrats. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has already begun gathering signatures for the race, as has former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. Former Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is also in the race.
Pingree is considered by many to be the favorite among Democrats. However, some pundits believe her chances of winning the general election could be compromised by King.
King, who is popular with independents and center-left Democrats, could conceivably siphon votes from Pingree, thus recreating the scenario that played out during the 2010 gubernatorial election when Republican Paul LePage won with 38 percent of the vote while independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell split the Democratic-independent vote.
Public Policy Polling, a national polling firm, is expected to release an early poll of the Senate race. On Monday, PPP released selected excerpts of the results via Twitter.
The excerpts did not include margin of error or any other metric that would be used to determine the survey's efficacy. However, in a race against Pingree and Republican Charlie Summers, King pulled votes from both candidates, 35 percent from Democrats, 25 percent from Republicans. King also won among the state's largest voting block, independents, collecting 53 percent.
The survey showed King's favorable/unfavorable rating of 62 percent to 24 percent.
It's unclear if Pingree would continue her Senate bid given that she would effectively be abandoning a safer re-election bid in the 1st Congressional District for a less certain Senate bid. In addition, Pingree could encounter pressure to stay where she is from national Democrats who believe they have a good chance at taking back the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.
Summers, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, former state Senate President Rick Bennett and Attorney General William Schneider are among the Republicans considering a Senate run.
King's popularity has prompted some pundits to peg him as the early front-runner. However, his opponents are expected to closely examine King's two-term record as governor for flaws.
King presided over a time of economic prosperity, the result of a national financial boom. He is best known for introducing the school laptop program, infrastructure investment. The latter was the source of some controversy because King in 1999 raised the state gas tax by 3 percent amid record revenues and a surplus.
King, who is known as socially liberal, also championed a gay rights law that was eventually overturned by citizens veto.
His critics often accused him of squandering his political capital and enormous popularity by staying removed from contentious issues.
Nonetheless, the former governor left office mostly preserving the goodwill of voters. His endorsements were highly sought by politicians. In 2010 he broke from tradition by endorsing independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler.
Cutler, who had flirted with the idea of joining the senate race, on Monday returned the favor, endorsing King's senate run.
King in 2010 also backed Pingree's re-election bid for the 1st Congressional District.
Asked Monday if he and Pingree had spoken since Snowe decided to bow out, King said, "Only to tell her that I was running."
King wrapped up his speech on Monday by paraphrasing former Bowdoin College professor and Civil War general Joshua Chamberlain.
"You don't equivocate, don't deny, you charge ahead," King said. "That's exactly what I intend to do."