PORTLAND, Maine - Angus King, the popular former independent governor, shook things up in the scramble for the state’s open seat in the US Senate on Monday night by announcing a bid to succeed Republican Olympia J. Snowe, bringing to the race a strong alternative to Republicans and Democrats criticized by Snowe for causing partisan gridlock.
King made his announcement after delivering a lecture at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
He said he would not be beholden to political parties.
“Nobody will be able to tell me how to vote except for the people of Maine,’’ he said.
Just hours before, fellow independent Eliot Cutler offered a ringing endorsement, describing King as someone who would bring an independent voice to the Senate, much as Snowe did in a congressional career that spanned more than three decades.
“He would bring to the Senate the independence, the abilities, the reputation, and the disposition that will make him a great senator, that will serve us Mainers well and make us proud every day and that will begin to rebuild and restore the Senate to what it was intended to be,’’ Cutler said.
A King candidacy adds complexity to a race that was thrown wide open by Snowe’s surprise announcement last week that she would not seek a fourth term.
“Things just got more interesting,’’ said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
Brewer cited King’s popularity when he served from 1995 to 2003 in a state where independent voters who are not enrolled in a party represent the largest voting bloc. King regularly reached across the political aisle, and his administration enjoyed budget surpluses at the height of the Internet boom.
Brewer said King “is not your typical independent or third-party candidate.’’
“He left office being quite popular; he’s still quite popular today,’’ Brewer said. “He goes right to the top of the list, even though he doesn’t have the backing of the major parties and can’t tap party dollars.’’
The remainder of the list of candidates has yet to shake out.
Scott D’Amboise, a conservative GOP candidate who has worked for two years on his campaign, could be joined in the Republican primary by additional candidates such as Secretary of State Charles Summers, Attorney General William Schneider, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, or Rick Bennett, a former state senator.
On the Democratic side, four candidates have announced they are running, but some might make way for Representative Chellie Pingree or John Baldacci, the former governor, both of whom are considering the job.
Cutler said it’s important to have an independent voice.
“What made Olympia Snowe special was not that she is a woman or a Republican, sometimes in the majority and often in the minority, but that her vote was hers and hers alone,’’ Cutler said.