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(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - Former Maine Gov. Angus King continues to be the frontrunner in the three-way race for Senate that pits him against Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill, but thanks in part to an influx of negative ads and out-of-state money, the race to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe is much more competitive than anyone imagined.
It's not hard for the popular former governor to line up colleagues extolling his accomplishments, and King says experience and status as an independent is exactly what's needed to break the gridlock in Washington.
But what King hadn't counted on was the more than $2 million worth of negative ads directed at him funded by out-of-state special interests, with the latest coming from Republican operative Karl Roves' Super PAC Crossroads GPS.
"I've been subjected to one of the greatest negative assaults I've ever heard of in the country," King says.
Republican opponent, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, says while he has no control over what special interests do or say, there's no doubt that he's benefited from the steady King bashing drumbeat on the airwaves.
"When the U.S. Chamber endorsed us and started outlining the facts, talking about Angus's record, it caused an 18 point swing and people started looking at our campaign," Summers says.
Recent polling puts King ahead of Summers either by double digits or a few percentage points, depending on which poll you believe, with Dill running a distant third, but any way you slice up this pie, it's clear King's piece of it has shrunk.
Dill, who is an attorney and an educator, has benefited the least from out-of-state money, with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee all but ignoring her candidacy, which is something she's tried to turn into a selling point.
"And I'm hoping at the end of the day, Maine people pick someone who has their interests at heart and doesn't have strings attached to fat cats from out of state," she says.
Maybe, but with this open Senate race now in play, the money will continue to pour into Maine between now and Election Day.