Maine’s Susan Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, surprised no one with her official announcement on Wednesday that she is indeed running for a fifth term. Nor did her claim to represent a sort of bridge over troubled partisan waters, as she stressed in her letter to constituents and the media, per Politico:
“The fundamental question I had to ask myself in making my decision was this: In today’s polarized political environment, is there still a role for a centrist who believes in getting things done through compromise, collegiality, and bipartisanship?” Collins said in the letter. “I have concluded that the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ and I will, therefore, seek the honor of continuing to serve as Maine’s United States Senator.”
But as a red senator in a blue state (albeit one with a significant pro-Trump minority; POTUS carried one of Maine’s two congressional districts in 2016), Collins has a bull’s-eye on her back, made larger and more vivid by back-home anger at her key role in securing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year (capped with a speech that didn’t sound terribly bipartisan). But this act of loyalty to the GOP may have headed off a conservative primary challenge; she was later endorsed for reelection by former governor and right-wing favorite Paul LePage, thought by some to be considering a race against Collins (another conservative, Derek Levasseur, was briefly in the field before dropping out).
The odds-on favorite in a large field of Democrats hoping to knock off the incumbent is Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who has been working with freshly minted Democratic Governor Janet Mills to reverse many of LePage’s policies, including his efforts to block Medicaid expansion. Whoever wins the June 9 Democratic primary to face Collins will be the beneficiary of a crowdfunding effort that took flight the day the senator announced her support for Kavanaugh, and has now raised over $4 million.
Some of Collins’s centrist street cred is based on her rare position as one of just two pro-choice Republicans in Congress (the other being her Alaska colleague, Lisa Murkowski). In her speech supporting Kavanaugh, she placed great faith (as virtually no one else on either side of the issue does) in his pious protestations that he respects pro-choice Supreme Court precedents. If SCOTUS begins reversing those precedents next year, as it has the opportunity to do with Kavanaugh onboard and a restrictive Louisiana law on the docket, it could make Collins look foolish or cynical. And despite her electoral record in Maine (she won 58 percent, 62 percent, and 68 percent in her previous reelection bids), she won’t have much of a margin for error in 2020.
Nor does her party, which will badly need to maintain its control of the Senate no matter who wins the presidential election. Every scenario for a Democratic takeover of the chamber begins with knocking off Cory Gardner of Colorado — and Susan Collins.