If you're lucky enough to be in Maine this summer, you're sure to come across the trademark fishing boats, lighthouses and lobsters. But you're less likely to see much political activity, despite the intricate and somewhat confounding Senate race playing out across the state.
Maine voters expected anything but an open Senate race a year ago. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has served the Pine Tree state in the Senate since 1995, announced her retirement in February, sending shock waves through Washington. Snowe's retirement was seen as a big plus for Democrats in a state boasting a deep bench of potential Democratic nominees to run for the open seat.
Angus King, the state's former independent governor, is the strong front-runner. The National Republican Senatorial Committee accused King of making a back-room deal with Democrats to keep their strongest candidates out of the race in exchange for caucusing with them if elected to the Senate.
King, 68, denies any such agreement. He is popular, well-known and independently wealthy, but his candidacy has left some people scratching their heads because he has so far made his bid a referendum on compromise and bipartisan spirit.
"My reason for running is the reason that Olympia retired: When she announced that she was leaving, basically, she was frustrated and couldn't get anything done. That what was when I said, 'Well, if someone with her background, her experience, her seniority, couldn't get anything done, than we better do it a different way,'" King said. "I was in kind of a unique position to do it the different way."
King said he believes the biggest problem facing Maine, and the country as a whole, is gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.
"I think the issue facing the people of Maine is the same issue that's facing the rest of the country which is the functioning of our system," he said. "There are a list of very important issues, starting with the economy and jobs, and then the national debt, and the cost of health care, and a rational energy policy. All of those are important pressing issues, but until we can make the system, and in this case the Senate, actually work, we never get to those issues."
Such a position in the independent-minded state of Maine is unlikely to hurt him. Snowe, after all, was known for being one of the few bipartisan senators in Washington on either side of the aisle. And Maine, despite being written off as a blue state because it tends to go Democratic in presidential elections, is a mixed bag of political ideology.