When she appeared on the show last week, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) of Maine seemed very likely to launch a U.S. Senate, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). It came as something of a surprise, and a disappointment to many on the left, when the congresswoman announced today she is passing on the race.
“After careful consideration I have decided to run for re-election to the U.S. House this year. This has been a very difficult decision and I will always be grateful for the tremendous support I’ve received from people all across Maine and around the country. I have been humbled by the enthusiastic encouragement I’ve gotten – from my neighbors here in Maine to my colleagues in Washington.”
What happened to change Pingree’s mind? There’s no great mystery here – former two term Gov. Angus King (I) kicked off a Senate bid of his own this week. A Democrat close to Pingree told Greg Sargent that the congresswoman looked closely at her chances, and “determined that entering the race could pose too great a risk to Dem chances of holding the Senate.”
Remember, Maine has had some difficulties in this area recently. In 2010, a Democratic and Independent candidate split the vote, allowing an odd, Tea Party Republican, Paul LePage, to be elected governor with only 38% of the vote. With King and Pingree competing for the same Senate seat, the opportunity for a similar result was all too real.
Indeed, Pingree reportedly “talked to King several times,” urging him not to do this, but the former governor wouldn’t budge. Pingree could win this race in a head-to-head match-up against any Republican, but in a three-way contest, a GOP victory – of the race and the Senate majority – was a real possibility.
So Pingree stepped aside.
The result is a remarkably quick reversal of fortunes. A week ago, it appeared likely that a progressive champion and popular congresswoman would be the prohibitive favorite to win a Senate seat in Maine, flipping the seat from “red” to “blue.” Democratic officials in Washington and Maine, as well as activists throughout the left, were engaged and excited about the race.
One week and an Angus King announcement later, it’s a very different contest.
Postscript: It’s unclear which party King would caucus with if elected. The former governor endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, but backed Barack Obama in 2008.