Some bad news out of Maine: Chellie Pingree, the progressive member of Congress who considered running for Senate after Olympia Snowe retired, backed out of the race today. The presence of independent former Governor Angus King in the race was enough to get her to drop her plans. Here’s part of her thinking, per Greg Sargent:

But Pingree, after looking closely at her chances, determined that entering the race could pose too great a risk to Dem chances of holding the Senate, the Democrat familiar with her thinking tells me. Pingree did see a path to winning, and passing on the race cut against her competitive nature. But the entry of independent former governor Angus King would have meant they’d compete for many of the same voters, making a Republican victory more likely — a risk she was not prepared to take, the Democrat says.

Public Policy Polling did extensive polling of this race after King announced, and it showed that Pingree had a big edge in a Democratic primary and would win handily in a head-to-head matchup against all Republicans likely to run. However, in a three-way race with King, he wins 36-31-28 over Pingree and the best-polling Republican. However, check out PPP’s Dean Debham’s analysis of the race:

“Angus King and Chellie Pingree look like the early favorites in Maine,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “King will have a hard time holding onto his
early Democratic support without a pledge to caucus with the party if he’s elected to the

According to that analysis, as King faded, Pingree would benefit, and she only started out five points behind with King at the height of his announcement bounce. Pingree appears to have been scared off by the experience of 2010, where a Democrat and independent candidate similar on the issues gave away the race to Paul LePage, a Tea Party Republican. But the electorate will look far different in Maine in 2012.

Pingree and King are personally close, and that probably determined this more than anything. But Maine voters are getting shortchanged. King carries a business-friendly streak along with a socially liberal profile. There’s talk that the DSCC, with few other options, will now move to back King. The only other high-profile candidate out there on the Democratic side is former Governor John Baldacci, and he has a very similar profile as King. So this represents a step backward on ideological terms. And if King refuses the entreaties from the DSCC, and steadfastly refuses to caucus with either party, he becomes a non-entity at the committee level if he wins election, and he threatens to lose support from all sides during the election, for consigning Maine to insufficient representation.

Ultimately, this is a consequence of first-past-the-post voting. In an instant-runoff scenario, there would be virtually no opportunity for a Republican to sneak in when the Democrat and the independent have more overall support. First past the post, in this case, led to a less progressive outcome for the seat. And control of the Senate could also be at stake.

UPDATE: See if you can get through this interview with King without retching. I predict a migration of the nation’s High Broderist pundits to Maine just to have the honor of casting a ballot for one of their own.

David Dayen

David Dayen