New England is weird. How else to explain these two independent US senators, Angus King from Maine and Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who caucus with and vote with Democrats, but aren't actually Dems for whatever reason? It's a strange thing when somebody who isn't actually a Democrat makes a credible run for the presidential nomination -- Bernie got my caucus vote in 2016 -- but never quite signed up for the party. So we figure it's some strange New England thing about not wanting to get labeled even when you vote with the people who happily wear that label. Must be something in the maple syrup.

I Really Like Your Maine

Angus King, owner of the US Senate's most impressive mustache and a former governor of the Pine Tree State (that's still Maine), is going for his second Senate term, and there's little reason to think he won't get it. He has a Republican opponent, Eric Brakey, who's polling well behind King, (52 percent for King, 25 percent for Brakey in an August Suffolk poll). Since King is an independent, there's also a Democrat in the race, Zak Ringelstein, but he polled at only 9 percent. King is well-known and well-liked in Maine -- he had the highest approval rating of any Maine politician in that Suffolk poll, with a 63 percent favorable rating; while Brakey and Ringelstein struggle to even get name recognition. Honestly, we're only talking about King today because by Crom, when you're assigned to profile all the Senate races, you do your job and profile all of 'em. And so here's your profile: If Angus King isn't reelected, it'll have to be due to something earthshaking that simply couldn't be predicted, like if it turns out he's in league with an eldritch being of ancient terror that rises from the sea to terrorize Mainers like something from a Stephen King (no relation) novel. And even then, both guys named King are popular enough in Maine that the Senator would still have a good shot. Pennywise the clown might be preferable to, say, Mitch McConnell.

The biggest news in the Maine race for US Senate is the guy who decided not to run: term-limited and widely loathed Gov. Paul LePage, who had been threatening to run against King since at least 2015. In 2016, LePage announced that if he didn't get a job in the Trump administration (yes, this was before Trump was even elected), he'd definitely run against King. But even though there was no position available for LePage as special adviser on racist outbursts (just too much competition), the outgoing governor ultimately decided in May 2017 not to run. Which is probably just as well, since even though he's about as well-loved as major skin rashes, LePage had remarkable luck in winning both of his terms in elections with a plurality of votes.

LePage's two less-than-majority wins led to a pretty neat experiment in democracy: Mainers passed a voter initiative to institute ranked choice voting, in which voters list their first, second, and third (or more) choices in a race. If no candidate gets a majority, then the votes of the lowest finisher are redistributed by preference to the others, until there's a majority. The state legislature and LePage thought it was a terrible idea, and repealed it, but Maine also allows a "people's veto" initiative process, so darned if voters didn't turn right around and repeal the repeal. The state supreme court has doubts about whether ranked-choice voting is constitutional (it may require an amendment, which hasn't happened yet), but the system was rolled out for this year's primaries, and will be used in the general. Like we say, New England is weird.

The real energy in Maine this fall is in the race to replace LePage, where, now that rank-order voting is in place to prevent a splitter from spoiling things, there are of course only a Republican and a Democrat running for governor (it's a tie so far). There's also a lot of effort going into a Democratic plan to flip the majority in the state Senate away from the Rs; EMILY's List is pouring a lot of money into that, and wouldn't that be a nice farewell to old anusface LePage?

In Vermont, Bernie Sanders is running for a third term to extend his time as the longest-serving independent senator in history, which is nice for him. Like King, he's almost certainly going to cruise to an easy win, and the Republican he's running against has really had to try hard to get any attention, mostly by insisting that if Sanders is reelected, Vermont will somehow become Venezuela.

Mood Light In Vermont

To continue our theme of New England Is Weird, Bernie's Republican opponent, Lawrence Zupan, isn't even the winner of Vermont's Republican primary for US Senate. Thanks to a quirk in Vermont law, there's no restriction on how many offices a single candidate can file for in the primary, as long as they only run for a single office in the general. Perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige ran for six offices, and won the R primaries for all of them, including U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer. Then after the August 14 election, Paige dropped out of all the general election races except for secretary of state, and the state Republican party met to choose replacement candidates for the other five slots. Hell of a way to run a railroad. Zupan, who'd come in second in the primary, was chosen as the candidate for Senate, but another guy, who hadn't even run in the primary, Dan Feliciano, got 12 votes. At least they didn't go with Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, the Californian nutbag who's run and lost in nine Republican primaries for the Senate this year.

Zupan certainly talks as if he's a serious candidate; he's challenged Sanders to a series of 8 debates, for whatever that's worth. Seems unlikely Sanders will bother, because why? But demanding debates is the sort of thing you do when you're a no-name running against a popular incumbent and the national party isn't bothering to send you more than token support. That and whining that the incumbent is so busy on the national stage that they're a stranger back home -- and yes, Zupan's doing that, too.

There's just something kind of sad and doomed about campaigns like this -- for instance this Facebook post in which Zupan says he had a "great time" speaking to a "crowd" in Bristol that... well, look:

We clicked the photo, and no, that's not just unfortunate cropping. We can't absolutely rule out the possibility it was taken from the second row of a room with several hundred Lawrence Zupan fans behind the photographer, but we'll guess probably not. That's poor Larry just to the left of the podium, in case you were wondering.

Bonus: Oh, Look, It's Ted Cruz Being A Dick Again

We'll close with an update on what was actually our first Senate Sunday profile this year, the Texas race between booger-eater Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O'Rourke. As you may know, the two debated Friday night; yesterday, Cruz tried to capitalize on the debate Saturday by sending out a tweet with the ominous heading, "In Beto O'Rourke's own words," which certainly sounded like it was going to astonish people with a clip of O'Rourke saying something horrifying. Instead, it turned out to be video of O'Rourke speaking at a black church, condemning the Dallas police officer who shot Botham Jean, dead in his own apartment, which she says she mistook for her place:

How can it be — in this day and age, in this very year, in this community — that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer? How can that be just in this country?

And when we all want justice and the facts and the information to make an informed decision, what is released to the public? That he had a small amount of marijuana in his kitchen. How can that be just, in this country?

How can we continue to lose the lives of unarmed black men in the United States of America at the hands of white police officers?

It's a remarkably good ad for O'Rourke, who brought the crowd to its feet; lots of retweets out there thanking Cruz for endorsing O'Rourke with the self-own.

But surely it's more than a coincidence that the caption that just happens to be highlighted before you click "play" reads, "At the hands of white police officers" -- the only reason Cruz could think it would help him is pretty obvious: he had to assume there'd be just enough people on Twitter who'd see only that and be outraged at O'Rourke. Apparently, Cruz figured motivating people who approve of police shooting black people, regardless of the situation, was worth looking like a tone deaf idiot. Gotta support the police no matter what, and here's a scary liberal telling scary black people not to support the police.

What a great fellow Ted Cruz is. Cook Political Report has switched its call on the Texas US Senate race from "leans Republican" to "toss-up," and let's hope Cruz can continue to this effectively step on his own dick.

For a palate cleanser, please enjoy this video of Beto O'Rourke after the debate, playing very credible air drums to The Who's "Baba O'Riley" while in line at a Whataburger drive-through.

Baba O'Rourke, or Beto O'Riley? Discuss amongst yourselves.

[USA Today / Politico/ Atlantic / Portland Press-Herald / Vox / Seven Days / WaPo / Angus King campaign site / Bernie Sanders campaign site]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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