Democrats Give Up On Capturing Maine Senate Seat

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It looks like the Democratic Party has all but given up on clinching the seat now held by retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. Independent Angus King has lead in the polls since he announced he was running. Even the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee isn't helping Democrat Cynthia Dill in her run for the seat.

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In Maine, the clear front-runner for an open Senate seat is not a Republican or a Democrat. It's Independent Angus King, the former Maine governor. King is a social liberal who supports President Obama, although he has not said which party he would caucus with as a senator. In the meantime, the Democratic candidate isn't getting much help from groups that might be expected to support her, as Maine Public Broadcasting's Susan Sharon reports.

SUSAN SHARON, BYLINE: With a record number of women running for the U.S. Senate, some have speculated that this year could rival 1992's year of the woman. But Cynthia Dill wouldn't know it. Her race for the U.S. Senate in Maine has failed to gain traction with most groups that try to get either women or progressive candidates elected to office around the country. Dill is pro-choice and says she has a perfect score supporting women's issues as a member of the Maine legislature. She's also voted for core Democratic issues, such as an increased minimum wage and union rights. But so far, even the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has ignored her.

STATE SENATOR CYNTHIA DILL: I haven't heard anything from them since our conversation a few weeks ago when I initiated communication by sending a letter to Washington.

SHARON: In an unusually harsh letter to the committee chairwoman last month, Dill said the party's silence on her campaign was deafening. DSCC spokesman Matt Canter declined to talk on tape but told NPR the group is keeping a close eye on the race. The committee's website does highlight the Maine Senate race as one to watch. But if you click on a description of it, the only candidate named is independent Angus King. Dill is listed afterward in the key facts section as the Democratic nominee.

DILL: It just amazes me, actually, the audacity. I mean, I still get solicitations from the DSCC asking me to contribute to their cause of electing a Democratic majority in Washington, and yet here they are not even supporting the Democratic candidate.

SHARON: Dill's disappointment is compounded by the fact that King has refused to say which party he will caucus with if he's elected to the Senate. Republicans claim King has cut a secret deal with Senate Democratic leadership to caucus with them. This ad ran online when King entered the race.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Independent Angus King? But who dragged him into the race for Senate? Chuck Schumer and the Democrats?

SHARON: More suspicions were fueled when top Democratic fund-raisers and lobbyists feted King in Washington last month, but King and his campaign insist there is no deal.

ANGUS KING: If I'm fortunate enough to be elected, I plan to go down and talk to both sides.

SHARON: King is a former Democrat and embraces many of the party's issues, but he hasn't held office in nearly a decade. And as governor, he vetoed some Democratic-backed bills, including one to raise the minimum wage. Still, national labor groups have joined progressive interests sitting on the sidelines. University of Maine Professor Amy Fried says there's an obvious reason.

AMY FRIED: King's position in the polls is probably the biggest factor in the progressive women's groups deciding who to support and who to endorse or whether really just to stay pretty quiet.

SHARON: Polls show Dill well behind front-runner King and Republican Charlie Summers. For its part, the Maine Democratic Party says Cynthia Dill has its full support, calling her the only true progressive in the race. For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon in Lewiston, Maine.

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