LEWISTON — Two polls released Wednesday suggest former Maine Gov. Angus King is hanging onto his lead heading into the final 50 days of the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
But both polls also suggest that the wide margin independent King enjoyed when he first announced he would seek the seat in March is narrowing.
The first poll, by the Maine People's Resource Center, surveyed 856 registered voters and was conducted at various times of the day. It suggests that if the election were held today, King would win with 43 percent of the vote. Conducted Sept. 15-17, the poll has a 3.4 percent margin of error.
The second poll, released by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, found King support at 35 percent. In a June poll, King's support was at 55 percent.
The first poll puts King 15 points ahead of Republican Charlie Summers, who garnered support from 28 percent of respondents, up slightly from the June poll that had him at 27 percent.
But the second poll suggests King's lead is 8 points ahead of Summers, Maine's secretary of state. The PPP poll shows Summers' backers growing to 35 percent, an 8-point gain from his June number. This poll included 804 respondents and had a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Both polls found steady growth in support for Democrat Cynthia Dill, a state senator from Cape Elizabeth.
The first poll suggests Dill is breaking out of the single digits with nearly 15 percent backing her. The second poll shows her support at 14 percent. Both numbers are nearly twice what her June numbers were.
“The Maine Senate race is closer now than anyone really expected it to be,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, in a prepared statement. “Angus King is losing more Democrats than he is picking up Republicans and although he remains the favorite, a victory for him is not as inevitable as it used to be.”
After the first poll was released, Summers' campaign spokesman, Drew Brandewie, responded quickly, saying the poll showed King's support plummeting from 56 percent to 44 percent.
"While polls are just a snapshot in time, it's abundantly clear that anyone who thought this race would be a coronation was dead wrong," Brandewie said. "The more Charlie meets with working people across Maine, the more they realize that a small businessman who shares their principles and priorities is the best person to cut spending, keep taxes low and balance budgets in Washington."
A Portland Press Herald poll conducted in July suggested King had support from 55 percent of the 615 voters surveyed. That poll showed Summers' support at 27 percent and Dill's at 7 percent.
After the first poll's release, King campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney said they were grateful for the strong support despite a nearly $2 million television advertising blitz conducted either against King or in support of Dill.
""We currently have a double-digit lead in one poll and a smaller lead in another," Canney said. "After $1.7 million dollars in negative advertising from out-of-state, right-wing groups, it's obvious this race can't be taken for granted and we are not going to."
Dill said the shifting numbers show more Maine voters are responding and relating to her message.
“Both men are seriously out of touch with the day-to-day lives and concerns of struggling Maine people, their families and their children," Dill said in a prepared statement. “Maine people agree with my position on the Bush tax cuts, which is also President Obama’s position — having the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes will help our economy."
The new polls, both considered left-leaning, also included numbers for the U.S. presidential race and suggest Mainers favor the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama by wide margins. The first poll found 53.5 percent support Obama's re-election, while 37 percent supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The second poll suggests the president leading 55 percent to Romney's 39 percent.
Nearly 2 percent in the first poll said they favored Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson while 7.3 percent remained undecided.
The second poll found 7 percent were undecided in the presidential race.
Both polls featured more Democratic voters than Republicans. The Maine People's Resource Center poll included 42 percent Democratic respondents to 32 percent Republican, with the rest undecided or independent.
Maine Peoples Resource Center Poll
Public Policy Polling Poll