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Maine: Negative Ads Dominate Senate Race

In Maine Senate’s race, unlike other contests across the country, most of the intrigue likely lies not in who will win, but what the winner will do once elected.

Former Gov. Angus King’s (I) lead has narrowed in recent polls and Roll Call rates the race as Leans Independent. But the flood of outside money that has been pouring into the state — and the negative ads that come along with it — could affect King’s thinking, if elected, on which party he might caucus with. King has not formally stated if he will join Democrats or the GOP if he wins the seat being vacated by moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce have sunk millions combined into Maine, almost exclusively on anti-King ads. Of course, the purpose of the spots are to give GOP candidate Charlie Summers a chance at winning and have made a dent in King’s high popularity in the state. But the side effect of such a campaign is that it might make it more difficult for King to choose to caucus with Republicans and is indicative of the assumption by national Republicans that King will choose the Democrats.

It’s a bizarre dynamic that has put nearly all sides in an awkward spot. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been up on TV in the state hitting Summers, a tacit acknowledgement that the GOP’s negative ads have been working on King and that they’d like him to win. The DSCC has been eerily silent on whether it backs the actual Democratic nominee, Cynthia Dill, because support of the Democrat could detract votes from King and the party’s best chance at a pick-up. Dill has no real shot at winning next month.

The prevalence of negative ads in Maine — in part because that’s the status quo this cycle and part because Democratic outside groups are afraid to endorse a specific candidate in a positive way — has begun to draw national attention. National Public Radio’s Morning Edition this week highlighted the focus on negative ads there and subsequent lack of policy debate.

Meanwhile, also this week, The New York Times reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most powerful Independent politicians, is starting a Super PAC. King is one of the nascent PAC’s first marquee beneficiaries.

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