Susan Collins Faces Political Headwinds Back Home

Susan Collins hasn't officially announced her intentions for 2020 just yet, but she looks like she's running for re-election. If she does, she appears to be facing some political headwinds.

Maine Senator Susan Collins is a political survivor. A mostly moderate Republican in an era when the party has moved radically to the right. A pro-choice politician in a pro-life party. And a Republican in a party typically won by Democrats in Presidential election years. Despite all of that, she’s finding her bid for re-election in 2020 running into more headwinds than she’s faced before:

EASTPORT, Me. — Senator Susan Collins jogged her way through the Fourth of July parade in this picturesque little port city, handing out American flag stickers to cheers and shouts of “Thank you!” But beneath the bonhomie, there were hints that the once untouchable Republican may be in trouble because of two men: Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and President Trump.

A retired restaurant worker shouted at Ms. Collins on Thursday to “get those kids out of cages” — a reference to border detention centers — and later invoked her vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. An organic-farm worker shouted “Kavanaugh!” as the senator ran past. A local shopkeeper has been sending Ms. Collins letters urging her to live up to the example of Margaret Chase Smith, the iconic Republican senator from Maine who stood up to Joseph McCarthy.

All three voted for Ms. Collins in 2014, persuaded by her reputation as a true moderate. “I want to vote for her again,” said the shopkeeper, Linda Cross Godfrey, 72. “It will be up to her whether I do or not.”

Ms. Collins, who coasted to a fourth term in 2014 with 68 percent of the vote, will be difficult to beat. But the polarization that has swept the nation is seeping into Maine as well, even here in the Collins-friendly part of the state known as Down East, where the nationalization of politics should seem far away. That has raised an important question: Can a cautious politician like Ms. Collins — at 66, the sole remaining New England Republican in Congress — survive in the loud and angry era of #MeToo and Trumpism?

In an interview, Ms. Collins said she would decide in the fall if she would seek re-election. For now, she is behaving like a candidate.

She had raised $4.4 million for her 2020 campaign as of March, according to federal elections data, money she will need: After her Kavanaugh vote, a crowdfunding campaign raised over $4 million to donate to her eventual opponent. Last week, she drew a formidable challenger: Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House.

“I’m an important voice for the nation in an increasingly polarized environment,” Ms. Collins said, noting that a conservative Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who survived his own tough re-election battle last year, has endorsed her. “There are so few members left in the center.”

She also took a swipe at Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader: “It’s ironic to me that I am among Chuck Schumer’s top targets when there is no one who works more across the aisle.”

Ms. Gideon, the Democratic Party’s favored candidate, must first win a primary race to become the nominee. She said in an interview that she would make the case that during two decades in Washington, Ms. Collins had changed, “that she has over the years taken votes that don’t put Mainers first.”

(…)

Politics in Maine are complicated, which means Ms. Collins faces criticism no matter what she does. Independent voters — “unenrolled,” in the Maine lexicon — account for the largest percentage of the electorate; these are the voters she must win. Democratic registration is growing, a problem for Ms. Collins. Just as problematic are the Trump Republicans who do not care much for their senior senator.

“She stabbed the Republican Party in the back,” growled Arthur L. Carter, 86, a retired Army major wearing a “proud American” T-shirt. “She hasn’t really supported our president.”

Amy Fried, a professor of political science at the University of Maine, noted the changing landscape. “I’m looking at CNN exit polls from 2014 — 37 percent of liberals voted for Collins and it has 39 percent of Democrats voting for Collins,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine that that’s going to happen again.”

Since first being elected to the Senate to succeed former Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen in 1996, Collins has won each of her bids for re-election easily. Most recently, she won re-election in 2014 with 68% of the vote, this in a state that President Trump lost by 22,000 votes in 2016 (though he did manage to pick up an Electoral Vote by winning the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Ordinarily then, it would be expected that Collins would win re-election easily again in 2020, but some observers suspect that 2020 could prove to be a more difficult year for Collins.

The first reason for this, obviously, is the Trump factor, which is likely to result in a heavy anti-Trump voter turnout. The question for Collins will be how many of those voters end up splitting their vote between the Democratic nominee for President and her, and how many end up voting for the Democratic nominee for Senate. The second reason revolves around Collins’s decision to vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the face of the sexual assault allegations that were made against him by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others during the hearings last year. That vote, which Collins said recently she did not regret, has proven to be controversial among some circles back home and it’s unclear how much of a factor that would be in a race in November 2020.

As noted in the article linked above, Collins has not officially said that she is running for re-election, leaving until after the summer to make an announcement in that regard. However, from the reports back in Maine, it appears that she is certainly behaving like someone who intends to run for re-election to the point where it would be a shock at this point if she didn’t. Additionally, while it’s unclear how much this may factor into her decision, if Collins doesn’t run for re-election then the odds of the GOP being able to hold on to the seat would slip significantly and that would endanger the party’s chances of holding on to the Senate. If Collins does stay in the race, though, I suspect that she’ll be able to survive whatever challenge she may face next year even if it means a narrower victory than she’s been able to manage since taking office in 1997. In the end, I would not bet against Collins if she decided to run. She may be part of a dying breed of relatively moderate Northeastern Republicans, but she’s also a political survivor, having lost only one race that she ran in. While 2020 may prove to be more difficult for her than past re-election bids, I suspect that reports of political doom on her part are greatly exaggerated.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Congress,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    We immediately gave Ms. Gideon a one-time contribution and a monthly as well. Gideon is going to have all the money she needs and Collins will have to spend NRSC money defending her seat. Collins is a weak, spineless, dishonest politician. Mainers may have finally figured that out.

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  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Strong candidates lined up in Maine and Kentucky, and a potential for a Kobach candidacy in KS and a Moore candidacy in AL.

    Excellent.

    Now Schumer needs to convince Hickenlooper to run in CO, Bullock to run in MT, and find strong candidates in Iowa, Arizona, and North Carolina. If Beto realizes soon that he’s never going to be POTUS in 2020, and Stacy Abrams realizes waiting around for a VP offer isn’t keeping her in the spotlight, well we may have a shot at taking back the Senate, or at least bringing it to 50/50.

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  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I’m not convinced Hickenlooper would be the best candidate here in CO. His oil and gas record is not the best in a state moving away from support of fossil fuels. His “socialism is not the answer” and moderate centrism doesn’t carry well here anymore. Plus Cory Gardner is really losing support as a Trumpist toady. So a more liberal candidate has the best chance of replacing him.

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  4. Richard Graham says:

    Greetings from Maine, USA, where many of us registered voters are upset with how Senator Susan Collins has failed us for so long and on so many important issues. Thankfully there will be at least one true Republican running against Senator Collins next year for that seat in the US Senate, and other Republicans could still enter the race.

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    I wonder if Paul LePage also bears some mention here. He was in many ways a forerunner of Trump’s “death of the euphemism” style and I would not be surprised if his unapologetic racism went a long way toward polarizing the Maine electorate.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I’m convinced a bunch of the Dem presidential runs are actually intended to increase name recognition and raise a bunch of money before switching to the campaign they really want later on.

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  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    That’s fair. I do not profess to know anything about CO politics.

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’ve been wondering if that’s Bullock’s motivation. Increase name recognition, especially among deep pocketed out of state donors, and then be able to say “Of course I will stand up to the Dem POTUS when s/he isn’t looking out for Montanans. Hell, I ran against him/her.”

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  8. charon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Collins is a weak, spineless, dishonest politician.

    BooMan did an analysis a while back of her committee assignments. She is very much an outlier, has hardly any. Senators with less seniority have much better assignments.

    Obviously McConnell has no respect at all for her.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    So, is this “Richard Graham” real or a paid troll? I can easily see Collins tack with Democrats being to play up just how much “real” Republicans oppose her….

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  10. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Ted Terry, the son of a high school classmate, has announced that he’s running for the Senate seat currently held by David Perdue. As mayor of a town in the Atlanta metro region, he’s gone against the tide and made the town, in effect if not in law, a sanctuary city. I don’t think he’s got much of a chance, but I’m still supporting him.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    @charon:

    BooMan did an analysis a while back of her committee assignments. She is very much an outlier, has hardly any. Senators with less seniority have much better assignments.

    Obviously McConnell has no respect at all for her.

    Maybe she’s just lazy and doesn’t want to do the work?

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  12. Michael Cain says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I don’t see anyone convincing Bullock to run. His wife has already said she’s opposed; he has three kids somewhere in the K-12 age range that he seems rather devoted to; it’s a 6-8 hour “commute” each way if nothing goes wrong for six years. To be a back-bencher with enormous pressure to vote the way Schumer tells him. With tongue only partially in cheek, I’m surprised that any of the western states find good people to run for Senate.

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  13. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Michael Cain: I’m surprised that any of the western states find good people to run for Senate. I sure can’t think of too many from Colorado who really stand out, Gary Hart maybe, but only for the scandal. In other states there was Frank Church from Idaho. I don’t know if Goldwater was a good senator or not. Alan Simpson?

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  14. Jen says:

    @MarkedMan: I have no idea, but if Collins has a primary, all the better. She’ll need to waste money running there, and with name ID will probably win, but with depleted resources for the general election.

    @Stormy Dragon: Paul LePage, and the circumstances surrounding both of his wins (fractured vote between 5 candidates the first time, and 4 the second time, IIRC), have played a substantial part in making Maine “bluer.” We have friends and family up there, and LePage was just a horrible person with awful ideas. Good riddance.

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  15. An Interested Party says:

    Alan Simpson?

    That windbag?

    …and LePage was just a horrible person with awful ideas.

    A pity he won’t run against Collins in the primary…if he did and won, he’d make the Democrats’ job in the fall quite easy…

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  16. Michael Cain says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Western Senators that stay long enough and dedicate themselves in ways that get noticed — which, IMO, all require staying in DC a lot — are few and far between, especially for Dems. If Bennet were reelected in 2022 and served the entire term, he would become one of the longest-serving CO US Senators ever, as odd as that sounds. I don’t expect that he will run in 2022 — like most of the Senators before him, he’ll find something else to do that doesn’t require the commute/living grind of a western Senator.

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  17. Barry says:

    @Michael Cain: “…the commute/living grind of a western Senator.”

    I’ve recently lost a job which required a 45-minute commute each way (with good weather and no road work). I’m on a list to get one which will add 20-30 minutes each way to that.

    He’s got a relatively cushy commute, which at most is once a week.

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  18. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Michael Cain: I agree, I don’t think Bennett will run. Like most western pols he’ll land position back East and only vacation in the wilderness.

    @An Interested Party: I’m not saying Simpson was/is a great senator/statesman only that he made an impression.

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Hopefully that sort of tack wouldn’t work–why vote for a pseudo-Democrat when you can vote for an actual one. On the other hand, 47% of voters in the last election weren’t smart enough to come in out of the rain and gave a big (as Michael Moore noted) fwak you to the country just for the lulz.

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  20. Richard Graham says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Governor Paul LePage did an incredible job for the vast majority of Mainers, and that’s why to socialists hate him so much. If we’re lucky, he’ll decide to run again!

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