WASHINGTON -- No Senate race this election cycle is more confusing than Maine's.
With Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) retiring, three candidates -- Independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill -- are vying to take her place. King has the greatest name recognition after serving as governor from 1995 to 2003 and currently commands a solid lead in the race, although he has dropped in the polls. He is widely expected to caucus with Democrats if elected -- although he refuses to say what he will do -- and is likely to pull in support at the polls from Democrats, moderates and independents.
Republicans, meanwhile, seem to have determined that their best chance for Summers, Maine's secretary of state, to win is to get Democrats to split their vote between King and Dill.
A registered Democratic voter in Maine sent The Huffington Post a mailer he recently received that was paid for by the state GOP. The voter said that he was confused as to why he received the literature, since he never receives mail from Republicans.
The mailer paints Dill as a "tree-hugging environmentalist" who supports marriage equality and says that Obama's health care policy is "too liberal for Maine." While all of these qualifications may repel Republican voters, they could convince some progressive Democrats to vote for Dill over King -- thus siphoning off votes from the frontrunner and helping Summers.
View the Maine Republican Party mailer (click on images for larger version):
Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party, said she believed the mailer was consciously sent to Democrats in order to hurt King.
"They deliberately sent it out to Democrats -- from what we understand, Democratic women and young Democrats -- and then some independents," said Reinholt, adding, "They're also doing web ads targeted at the same universe. They've been popping up on my Facebook."
Maine GOP spokesman David Sorensen declined to say who the mailers were being sent to, but he denied the accusation that Republicans were deliberately promoting Dill in order to siphon votes away from King.
"We're warning voters about how liberal Cynthia Dill is, because she is a sure vote for Harry Reid in the Senate, and that's the last thing we need," he said.
Sorenson argued that Dill had "momentum" and was "gaining in the polls," and represented a serious threat to Summers.
"For all we know, she could be the frontrunner," he said.
Dill was a distant third in the latest poll by the Maine Sunday Telegram. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they backed King, 28 percent said Summers and 12 percent went with Dill.
The Maine Democratic Party is "100 percent" behind Dill, according to Reinholt, who acknowledged that Dill has risen in the polls as Republican "attacks" on her have stepped up.
The Portland Press Herald reported in late August that the conservative, D.C.-based group Maine Freedom also ran an ad touting Dill's progressive credentials in an effort to hurt King.
"It's certainly smart," Reinholt said. "But it also shows how weak Charlie Summers is, considering they recognize he doesn't have a chance of picking up any moderate, independent voters on his own."
Anthony Corrado, a professor of political science at Colby College in Maine, recently told ABC News that he believed King was dropping in the polls a bit due to two factors.
"First, Summers is now starting to coalesce the Republican vote, and that’s largely as a result of advertising conducted by the Chamber and the NRSC," Corrado said. "The other side of this was to bring King down a bit by promoting the Democratic contender, Cynthia Dill, which has solely been done by Maine Freedom PAC, a conservative-oriented PAC which has been running pro-Dill ads as a way to encourage Democrats to look to Dill rather than King."
While the state Democratic Party has endorsed Dill, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has so far declined to get behind either King or Dill, which seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that King is most likely to win and may caucus with Democrats. Yet because he hasn't promised to caucus with Democrats, there has been no endorsement. Nevertheless, the DSCC just went up with a $410,000 TV ad buy against Summers, which will be running from Oct. 2 to Oct. 12.
In July, Dill wrote to DSCC Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and criticized national Democrats for not endorsing her.
King just released a new ad attacking Summers, going after his GOP opponent for signing a "no taxes ever pledge," doubting climate change and favoring "tax subsidies for big oil." In April, however, King promised he would not release any negative ads.
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