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BOSTON (Reuters) - Former Maine Gov. Angus King won a three-way contest on Tuesday for the Senate seat that Republican Olympia Snowe is vacating after a race in which he ran as an Independent and promised to be a voice of moderation in a polarized Congress.
King, a soft-spoken, motorcycle-riding resident of coastal Brunswick, Maine, is known as fiscally conservative but socially liberal, a common combination in rocky northern New England.
The outcome is a blow to Republican hopes of taking the majority in the Senate.
A key question is whether King will caucus with Democrats or Republicans in the U.S. Senate. He refused to say during the campaign although most political analysts assume he will caucus with Democrats.
The two independents in the current Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, both caucused with Democrats.
King beat Democratic state senator Cynthia Dill and Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers to claim the seat.
King's chance for the Senate opened up in February when Snowe said she would be retiring from office after 18 years in the Senate, having tired of what she described in March as "dysfunction and political paralysis" in Washington.
King, who served as Maine's governor from 1995 through 2003, cited Snowe's frustration with partisan gridlock in Washington as motivating his run as an independent.
Snowe was known as a centrist who often broke with her party, and King's election could hold off a Republican effort to capture a majority in the upper chamber of Congress.
Indeed, the national Democratic Party opted not to support Dill, figuring that King had a better chance of defeating Summers.
Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Ciro Scotti