PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Independent former Gov. Angus King, who won the race to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, said Tuesday he's "fired up" and ready to head to Washington to try to serve as a bridge between the major parties to end gridlock.
The former two-term governor overcame challenges from Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill in an election with big implications for control of the Senate, in which Democrats held a slim edge going into Tuesday's elections.
King had said he was inspired to run because Snowe described the Senate as broken. He cast himself as unbeholden to parties and able to broker compromise.
"As I've said repeatedly, I'm neither naive nor arrogant enough to think I can go down there and do it all myself, and I don't think they're going to ask me how to run the place," he said. "But I do think we're going to begin the process that leads to real change and makes the place work for the people."
It was a historic night. Maine residents, besides sending an independent to Washington, approved gay marriage, something that had never happened by popular vote.
In the U.S. House races, Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud defeated their respective challengers, Republicans Jon Courtney and Kevin Raye.
In the Senate race, King was subjected to millions of dollars' worth of attack ads. Addressing supporters in Freeport, he singled out Republican operative Karl Rove for a special thanks, saying negative ads by Rove's super political action committee reinvigorated his supporters and donors.
Summers had vowed to restore "fiscal sanity" by cutting spending, reducing taxes and bringing down the federal debt. Dill campaigned as a progressive who was eager to continue President Barack Obama's agenda.
Snowe, who has known King for years, called him to offer her congratulations and "anything I could do to assist him with a smooth transition."
The outsized amount of outside spending underscored the stakes in the closely divided Senate, where Democrats held a 51-47 majority with two independents who caucus with them.
King said he'd be heading to Washington, D.C., next week to begin the orientation process. While it's widely assumed he would caucus with Democrats, he continued play his cards close to his vest.
"I want to be the most effective senator on behalf of Maine so I'll be talking to anyone who wants to chat," he said.
King, 68, of Brunswick, was targeted beginning in the summer with a TV blitz during the Olympics in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce described him as "king of spending" and "king of mismanagement."
But many voters were turned off by the negative ads.
Billie Roy, of Portland, a registered Democrat, voted for King because she remembered him as a good governor during two terms from 1995 to 2003. She also felt that King had more experience than Dill, who quickly climbed from her local town council to the Maine House to the Maine Senate over eight years.
"She's on the move, but I don't think she's ready," Roy said.
Dill said she was proud to be an example for young women and looked forward to the day when women make up a bigger share of the Senate. Summers, in his concession, said he raised important issues and wouldn't have changed anything about his campaign "except for the outcome." He said he offered his full support to King, whom unofficial returns showed winning with more than 50 percent of the vote.
The primarily three-way race created unusual dynamics in which a GOP-led group spent heavily to prop up Dill in hopes of keeping Democratic votes away from King, a former Democrat. Later, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent money to attack Summers after polls showed him gaining momentum against King.
King said the partisan gridlock that led Snowe to throw in the towel after 33 years in Congress was the reason he got into the race. He said he hoped to fix what he called a "broken" system. He said that having more independents elected to the Senate would be the major parties' "worst nightmare."
The GOP was virtually assured of keeping the Senate seat before Snowe abruptly abandoned the race. Her announcement in late February, a week after her 65th birthday, caused a scramble. Summers, 53, of Scarborough, and Dill, 47, of Cape Elizabeth, won their crowded primaries.
Tuesday's ballot included two lesser-known independents, tea party activist and libertarian Andrew Ian Dodge, of Harpswell, and former civil servant Danny Dalton, of Brunswick. Another independent, businessman Steve Woods, of Yarmouth, dropped out, but his name remained on the ballot.
Snowe, a self-described centrist who was attacked in her own party as a RINO, or Republican in name only, didn't mince words as she prepared to exit the chamber.
She said she was weary of the pervasive "my-way-or-the-highway" views at both extremes of the political spectrum and lamented that the "sensible center has now virtually disappeared."
Snowe was using part of her re-election campaign fund to establish an organization aimed at encouraging young women to participate in public service. She opted not to spend any money this cycle on any candidates, including Summers, who declined to endorse her in her primary.
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