Last February, my home state of Maine was thrust into the national political spotlight by US Senator Olympia Snowe’s sudden and surprising announcement that she was abandoning her reelection bid. Democrats saw an opportunity to flip a seat long held by moderate Republicans, while the state’s Tea Party crowd salivated at the chance to put stricter conservative into the Senate.

Come next week, both will groups already know they are to be disappointed. Maine’s new junior senator will either be a socially liberal, pro-business independent or a Midwestern Republican disciple of Sen. Snowe.

Curious who these people are, where they came from, and what forces shaped them and their political views?

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve just completed a series of in-depth biographical profiles of the three major contestants in the race for the Maine Sunday Telegram.

If you’re a betting person and want to read just one profile, you should go with the one on two-term independent governor Angus King, who has led in every poll. There’s some question whether he has been up by single or double digits, but if you have faith in Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight engine, it’s long given King a more than a 90 percent chance of victory. As you’ll read, King is a native Alexandrian, a former Boy’s State Governor of Virginia, legal aid lawyer, public television host and alternative energy entrepreneur, who started as an idealistic child of the Sixties and eventually landed on the political map at a set of coordinates that would put him in the midst of the Democratic Leadership Committee.

If you think polls are bunk, that Mr. Silver’s model is overrated, and that Mitt Romney is about to win an electoral college landslide, you’ll want to bone up on King’s nearest rival, Republican Charles Summers Jr. Mr. Summers is trying to win a seat occupied by his political mentor, Olympia Snowe, who isn’t supporting his candidacy on account of his earlier failure to endorse her. He’s apparently the most successful politician Kewanee, Illinois has ever produced, an affable fellow who was literally raised in the family’s hotel and thought he would remain in the hotel trade himself. Instead – after following his future wife to Maine – he was drawn into state politics, winning a state senate seat in 1992, but losing three U.S. House bids. He claims Everett Dirksen as a role model, but his track record includes an embrace of trickle-down economics and Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge, and a rejection of the conclusions of climate science.

Those with an obsessive interest in Maine politics may also wish to read up on the Democratic nominee, self-employed attorney and state senator Cynthia Dill, who lacks the support of the national party and, if polls are correct, most of the state’s registered Democrats. She’s an unapologetic liberal unafraid of tangling with political opponents left, right,and center and a relative newcomer to elected politics. Some say she’s a spoiler and fear her candidacy could split the non-conservative electorate and perhaps hand the election to Summers, just as another lackluster Democratic nominee handed the governor’s mansion to the bombastic Tea Party favorite Paul LePage back in 2010. In my interview with her, Dill hinted that she might broker a last minute deal to prevent that from happening, though there’s no sign of that yet.

Colin Woodard

Colin Woodard is the director of the Nationhood Lab at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. He is the author of six books, including American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America and Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood. Follow him on Twitter @WoodardColin.