Republicans eager to see another military veteran and foreign policy hawk serve in the Senate may also want to visit the Pine Tree State to help Charlie Summers.
Maine Democrats and Republicans picked Dill and Summers on Tuesday in primary contests to run in the U.S. Senate race to succeed the retiring Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe.
Despite their wins Tuesday, Dill and Summers face daunting odds in a three-way contest against former governor Angus King (I), who as 2chambers noted in Tuesday’s Washington Post, is enjoying a wide lead against his new challengers.
King so far refuses to say which party he would caucus with if he wins the Senate seat, making the Maine race a contest that could eventually tip the Senate’s balance of power.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee said Tuesday night that Summers is running against “two liberal Democrats” – Dill and King, who Republicans believe Democrats are quietly embracing King at the expense of other candidates in hopes that he will eventually caucus with them in the Senate.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has said nothing – zilch, nada – about Dill’s win since last night and the silence is part of a strategy that Democrats privately concede is designed to hopefully win King’s support by playing nice with him.
But in interviews that 2chambers conducted with Dill and Summers over the weekend, both said they hope King never gets a chance to go to Washington.
Dill said that King’s refusal to say which party he would support means he’s trying to conduct a “social experiment” with Maine voters.
“It’s kind of like mind games,” Dill said. “It has to be that he either knows who he’s going to caucus with, and he’s not telling us. In which case, that’s not the kind of change we need in Washington – another politician who’s not really straight with voters. Or he doesn’t know. And it concerns me if he doesn’t know, because the last thing we need is someone who at the last minute decides they’re going to throw their hat in the ring and hasn’t really thought thoughtfully about what’s at stake and can’t give voters a clear sense of what we’re getting.”
A state senator from Cape Elizabeth, Dill is an attorney and mother of two. Her campaign platform sings from the Democratic song book.
“I’m a proponent of single-payer health-care, public education, protecting the environment – all the things Democrats rally around,” she said. “I want to stop directing so many of resources to the military budget and focus them here at home. I believe government should invest in public infrastructure.”
Privately, Maine Democrats say Dill is unpolished and an unknown across most of the state. The state party is more focused on winning back the state legislature and state senate, which they lost in a landslide in 2010.
To national Democrats, Dill is potentially a nightmare: The NRSC has already accused the DSCC of abandoning Dill’s candidacy even though Democrats continue to tout the candidacies of other women with similar backgrounds running for the Senate in other states. The DSCC also has organized joint fundraising trips for its women candidates, and Dill said she’d love to join them in the coming months.
“I bring to the table core Democratic values and can articulate them very strongly,” Dilll said. “I’m not someone who tries to claim the middle.”
As for Summers, he said the only reason King remains popular in Maine is that he led the state during a period of economic prosperity, from 1995 to 2003, when the state enjoyed surpluses. But Summers noted that by the end of his two terms, King left the state with $1.5 billion in debt.
“A ferret could have been governor then and done a good job,” Summers said – repeating a line he’s used often on the campaign trail.
“When I served in the state senate, there were tough times, I was one of 13 senators willing to shut down the government for 17 days over workers’ compensation,” Summers said. “Since that time, we’ve saved small businesses millions of dollars.”
Summers has an enviable resume fit for political office – and one that should make Republican hearts swoon. He served in the Maine State Senate, as Snowe’s state director and then as regional administrator of the Small Business Administration. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a commander with the U.S. Naval Reserves and is now Maine’s secretary of state – an unelected position that provides him with a statewide perch.
Asked why voters shouldn’t vote for King, Summers noted that the former governor never served in uniform: “He has no foreign policy experience and he has a level of detachment and arrogance and he made a suggestion that he might not serve on a committee. What does that say to military voters in our state that he might not have a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee? Or a fisherman who works the waters off of Maine that he won’t have someone to stand up for him on the Oceans and Fisheries subcommittee. It’s remarkable how detached he is from the people he wants to represent.”
Later, Summers brought up King’s lack of military service again: “I don’t know what he [King] was doing during the Vietnam War, I know he wasn’t in the military. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, because not only did I believe in public service as it related to Congress, but I believe everyone has an obligation to serve in the military.”
That argument could prove popular for Summers, who noted that Maine has 132,000 military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan – the fourth-highest per-capita level in the United States.
Election Day is five months away – but both Dill and Summers have a steep hill to climb: A statewide poll from May gave Angus King a 42 percent name recognition in the race. Summers placed third – behind “unsure” – with just 10 percent. Dill trailed far behind.
So King either is headed for a political coronation, or a tough fight. Either way, he has a strong head start.
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