“I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine,” Senator King told The Hill Wednesday.
If King made this move Republicans would need to gain only five seats to control the chamber, instead of the current six. That could set up a bidding war for his services – if the GOP is right on the edge of ruling the Senate, they might offer King better committee spots to entice him to their side.
Or Democrats could up the ante to retain him.
If Republicans win the Senate outright, snagging King could increase their margin and give party leaders a cushion for tough votes to come.
So in a pure power sense, this offer is logical. King could maximize the political benefits flowing to the state of Maine by in effect auctioning his vote for Majority Leader to the highest bidder.
That probably would be fine with Maine’s voters, given that the state as a whole doesn’t particularly tilt in either partisan direction. King replaced the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican, by winning election in 2012. The other Maine senator, Susan Collins, is another middle-of-the-roader. King does not need the state Democratic Party behind him to win elections – he’s a declared independent, after all.
And King has warned he might do this. When he originally took his seat he said that being in the majority was something that was good for his constituents. That’s why he’s aligned with the Democrats so far, he says – they’re the ones in charge. For the moment.
But would King be comfortable in today’s Republican Party? Would they even accept him?
The answers to those questions aren’t obvious, because to conservatives, the “I” next to King’s name doesn’t matter. To them he’s a Democrat. Yes, the party might get more power by accepting him, but ideology is already a problem in the GOP, given the struggles between establishment Republicans and tea party-leaning insurgents.
It’s not clear how King would actually help the GOP pass an agenda, writes Jim Geraghty in the National Review, given that the American Conservative Union rates his past voting record as only 13 out of a hundred.
“I guess if you’re an independent, craven opportunism can be considered a form of helping your constituents,” Mr. Geraghty writes.
Indeed, National Journal’s rankings, based on recorded votes, place King as more liberal than 11 of the Senate’s current Democrats. He supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” He’s pushed for controls on ammunition magazines for semi-automatic weapons.
“So going GOP might be a stretch,” tweeted Washington Post political writer Aaron Blake Thursday.
GOP officials contacted King in 2012 to gauge whether he’d actually join their caucus. They’re likely to do that again after the 2014 vote, no matter who wins the Senate. That’s just politics 101.
But don’t expect them to woo King, writes Ed Morrissey Thursday at the right-leaning Hot Air site. In the event they win only five seats, and need another to take control of the chamber, the GOP might first target Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, according to National Journal rankings.
“Manchin’s voting record is closer to the GOP than King’s, and the trend in his home state might make him more reliable, too,” writes Morrissey.