AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King announced Wednesday that he has switched his endorsement in this year’s gubernatorial election from independent Eliot Cutler to Democrat Mike Michaud.

Within an hour of King’s announcement came word that former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has officially endorsed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election bid, will urge support for LePage in a robocall to Maine voters. LePage and Michaud are involved in a neck-and-neck race for the Blaine House.

King’s announcement came hours after a news conference at which Cutler acknowledged that he has little or no chance of winning the election. All in all, Wednesday was a turbulent day around the governor’s race.

King, Maine’s former two-term independent governor who easily won election to the U.S. Senate in 2012 after Snowe’s retirement, endorsed Cutler in August. In a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon, King said that with Cutler unlikely to prevail, Michaud is the best choice.

“This was not an easy decision, but I think the circumstances require that those of us who have supported Eliot look realistically at the options before us at this critical moment in Maine history. … I have worked with Mike Michaud for 20 years and know that he has what it takes to be Maine’s next governor,” said King, who did not mention LePage in his statement.

Cutler said he was “obviously disappointed” by King’s decision.

“As I said in my statement this morning, ‘anyone who has supported me — but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud — should do so,’” said Cutler in a prepared statement. “That applies to U.S. senators as well.”

King also has endorsed the re-election of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former state Sen. Emily Cain, who is the Democratic nominee for Maine’s open 2nd U.S. House District seat, which Michaud has abandoned to run for governor.

Snowe, who left the Senate citing a toxic, partisan political atmosphere, said LePage needs another four years to continue improving Maine’s economic climate. Snowe’s endorsement call will go to thousands of Maine voters beginning Wednesday evening.

“Under Paul LePage, the economy is turning around. … Please join me in supporting Gov. LePage on Tuesday” says Snowe in the telephone call recording, according to the LePage campaign.

Earlier Wednesday, the Republican Governors Association released an ad in which former first lady Barbara Bush urged Maine voters to support LePage. In addition, the Republican Governors Association announced that its chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will come to Maine for a fifth time on Monday to stump with LePage.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.