Angus King's Senate campaign opened headquarters in Brunswick on Monday with a celebration at its 135 Maine St. office. King's kickoff address echoed the announcement of his run as an independent candidate, which he made on campus in early March.
In a speech that focused on the problems created by political gridlock in Washington "No one will tell me how to vote, except the people of Maine," the former governor said. "The way the system works now, the party label means they're locked in. This is what Olympia Snowe told us in her parting remarks."
King told the crowd of roughly 100 supporters that he was unsure if he could "do anything" in a divided Senate, making his decision to enter the race "very difficult."
He promised not to caucus with either party because "it would defeat the whole purpose" of being an independent.
However, King recognized that he might have to join a party in order to get a committee assignment; he did not specify which party that would be.
King's opponents will not be decided until the June 12 primary, though a poll administered by the Maine People's Resource Center in early April pit him against potential Republican candidate and current Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, and potential Democratic nominee Matthew Dunlap, former Maine secretary of state.
The poll put King far ahead, with 56 percent of voter support, compared to 21.8 percent for Summer, and 12.2 percent for Dunlap.
In the same poll, however, Cynthia Dill, a member of the Maine State Senate, appeared to be the more heavily favored Democratic candidate, with 20.3 percent of Democratic support, while Dunlap only received 16.7 percent.
Chellie Pingree, the U.S. Representative from Maine's First Congressional District, decided not to run for the Democratic nomination, despite national speculation that she would. John Baldacci, former governor of Maine and U.S. Representative, declined to run in the Republican primary.
According to Crystal Canney, King's communications director, the campaign decided to open its headquarters in Brunswick partly because of its central location between Portland and Augusta, the state capital, but mainly because King and his family live in Brunswick.
Many students, including some from Bowdoin, have contacted the campaign to inquire about interning or volunteering. Nothing has been decided yet, but Canney said "there will be a variety of opportunities. We're overwhelmed with volunteers, but that's a great place to be."
A distinguished lecturer at the College, King is currently teaching a course called Leaders and Leadership. Thus far, the campaign has not significantly impacted the class.
"The only difference is that he takes the first 10 or 20 minutes to update us on the campaign," said Liz Clegg '12. "It's really interesting... It's a firsthand perspective of running a campaign, and the political challenges in Maine."
King also discusses "his perspective on Washington and how he thinks he can help the political divide," she said.
According to Clegg, no one in the class knew prior to his announcement that King would run to fill the Senate seat vacated by Snowe.
"When Snowe resigned, I think some asked him about it at the end of class," Clegg said. "But he kept it on lockdown."
Although the campaign will operate from Brunswick, King plans to visit every county in the state two or three times before the November 6 election.
"We're going to touch as many people as possible and do lots of one-on-one campaigning," said Canney.
She also plans to direct a strong social media campaign, and emphasized King's decision not to run negative advertisements.
"That's a defining part of the campaign...a significant choice," said Canney. She noted, however, that he would defend himself against negative ads if necessary.
King traveled across the state this week to meet with voters and newspaper editorial boards.
"We've also received a number of requests for speaking engagements," said Canney. And "there will certainly be some events geared to students. We'll fill out the schedule towards the summer."
When King finished speaking, his wife Mary Herman took over the microphone and talked about her husband's virtues. "He is the most ethical man I have ever known...and he couldn't not run," she said.
Campaign manager Kay Rand—who referred to herself as King's "staff for life"—was the final speaker at Monday's event.
"The campaign hit the ground running, and we're going to keep running," she said.
Referring to the polls that show King far ahead, Rand added, "we're not going to be wowed by polls."