New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is throwing his financial support behind Maine independent Senate candidate Angus King, who is battling a stronger-than-expected challenge from a Republican contender in a race that could help determine control of the Senate.
Bloomberg is one of the major backers behind a $500,000 ad campaign that began running on the Maine airwaves on Friday, the group running the ads said. The ads extol King as an independent voice who could help break gridlock in Washington.
“As Maine goes, so goes the country. The country and Mainers are hungry for problem-solving, independent candidates running for important offices,’’ said Daniel B. Winslow, senior counsel at the law firm Proskauer, who represents Americans Elect, which is running the ads.
King, who served as the independent governor of Maine between 1995 and 2003, was a heavy favorite when he entered the race to replace retiring Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, but his standing in opinion polls has slipped after an onslaught of ads from outside groups backing the GOP candidate, Charlie Summers.
It is widely believed that King would caucus with Democrats if elected, and he has the tacit support of many Democrats. The official Democratic nominee in the race, Cynthia Dill, is running a distant third in most polls.
Still, national Democrats have not explicitly endorsed King, and he lacks the kind of party apparatus that would ordinarily swing into action with ads and fund-raising on behalf of Democratic or Republican candidates in a tight race.
The outcome of the race could have major implications for control of the Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 51 to 47; there are also two independents who caucus with Democrats. Snowe’s retirement dented GOP hopes to win control of the chamber this year, since Maine typically leans Democratic in presidential elections and King was widely popular after his governorship.
Bloomberg, a billionaire who at various points in his career has been a Democrat, Republican, and independent, has been courted by politicians across the spectrum and has endorsed candidates in both parties. In the Senate contest in Massachusetts, he has supported Republican Scott Brown in his race against Elizabeth Warren.
The ad campaign in Maine represents a new mission for Americans Elect, which formed initially to advance a third-party candidate in the presidential race. That effort fell apart in May, and the group has reconstituted itself to focus on electing independent candidates, Winslow said. In this cycle, King is the only candidate it is supporting.
“If he is successful, Americans Elect will participate in the upcoming election cycle to develop 3, 5, or 10 more Angus Kings representing an independent caucus to bridge the divide between the partisan extremes, to turn the tide of gridlock in Washington, and to put us onto a course of government the American people want and deserve,’’ Winslow said. In addition to serving as a lawyer for the group, Winslow is a Republican member of the Massachusetts House from Norfolk.
This year, he said, the group has raised a total of $1.75 million to put into the Maine race — Bloomberg’s contribution of $500,000, plus $500,000 from financier Peter Ackerman and $750,000 from Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor John Burbank.
The group’s website lists Eliot Cutler, who ran for Maine governor as an independent in 2010 and is now one of the chairs of King’s campaign, as one of its directors, but Winslow said Cutler had stepped down in June.
“He resigned when the mission of Americans Elect changed,’’ Winslow said. “Americans Elect has no coordination with Angus King.’’
On Friday, the Summers campaign attacked King, accusing him of benefiting from the kind of outside spending he had criticized earlier this year, when he proposed an agreement with Summers and Dill to limit outside spending in the state similar to the “people’s pledge’’ signed by Brown and Warren in Massachusetts.
“The term ‘flip-flop’ is far too gracious a way to describe the cynical duplicity of Angus King’s broken promises, and his 25-point slide in the polls shows voters of Maine are obviously coming to understand the real Angus,’’ said Drew Brandewie, a spokesman for Summers, in a statement.
Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for King, said the candidate hadn’t sought out Bloomberg’s help, but that after Summers benefited from millions of dollars in ads attacking King paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and US Chamber of Commerce he couldn’t complain now.
“All of these ads — NRSC, US Chamber and the latest ads are exactly what Angus warned about in June,’’ she said. “We called for all candidates to disavow the ads and Charlie Summers refused. We will not unilaterally disarm.’’