Sen. Angus King, an independent, and his daughter, Molly Herman, show their optimism for King's re-election chances, outside a polling place on Tuesday in Brunswick. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

BANGOR, Maine — Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine cruised to a majority win for a second term over two young challengers Tuesday in what was the fourth and likely final statewide election for the former two-term governor.

King, 74, of Brunswick was heavily favored to win against state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, a libertarian with national Republican connections, and Democrat Zak Ringelstein of Yarmouth, an educator and political newcomer who ran uphill at King from the left.

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King has polled as the most popular politician in Maine, but he has frustrated Republicans who see his independence as a shtick. When he first ran for governor in 1994, he renounced the Democratic Party to which he once belonged, but he caucused with Democrats when he got to the Senate after winning a 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

With 85 percent of precincts reporting by early Wednesday afternoon, King had 55 percent of votes to Brakey’s 35 percent and Ringelstein’s 10 percent. The Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ projected King as the majority winner in the ranked-choice voting race at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday

King largely votes like a Democrat, though he is deemed the sixth most conservative member of his caucus by VoteTrack. He endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump in 2016. Though King supported many of the Republican president’s Cabinet nominees, he opposed Trump’s two picks to the U.S. Supreme Court — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

In an interview last month, King said “I suspect so” when asked if 2018 would be his last campaign. Brakey ran an energetic bid — putting signs up across the state that read “Retire Angus King” — but a statewide race proved to be a big step up for the two-term state senator.

[Read more election 2018 coverage here]

Brakey began his Maine political career by running presidential candidate Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign here. He upset a Democratic incumbent to win his first of two terms in the Maine Senate and championed a 2015 bill repealing a concealed-handgun permit mandate.

At the beginning of his campaign last year, he refused to say if he voted for Trump, though he said last month that he did. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. headlined a rally for him in Portland last month. Brakey hit King in Trumpian fashion, running an ad saying the senator wants to “replace your kids” with refugees.

Given King’s alignment with Democrats, Ringelstein’s bid was never likely to gain ground. Toward the end of his campaign, he urged his supporters to rank King second in the ranked-choice race. He was arrested while protesting Trump’s immigration policies near the Texas-Mexico border in June.

Bob Adler of Belfast, who described himself as a “lifelong Democrat,” didn’t hesitate at the polls on Tuesday when he cast his vote for King.

“Zak may be a good guy,” he said of the Democratic challenger. “But in the case of Angus King, I don’t think there’s any reason to lose the benefits of his seniority in the Senate.”

BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...