One of the most endangered of all Republican senators this year is Maine’s three-term incumbent Susan Collins, whose balancing act between wearing the party harness and displaying occasional independence has not been wearing well on her constituents in an increasingly polarized state. It didn’t make things easier on her when the opponent generally thought to be strongest, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, posted a huge Democratic primary win on Tuesday, taking 70 percent of the vote against two credible progressive rivals. Now, according to polls and informed opinion, Collins is facing the toughest general election of her career. And that’s in part thanks to her complicity with Donald Trump’s agenda, as the New York Times reports:
While Ms. Collins coasted to a fourth term in 2014 with 69 percent of the vote, her reputation for independence and bipartisanship has suffered under the Trump administration, and her approval ratings have plummeted at home. Though she has split with President Trump on a number of issues, she faced a significant backlash after supporting the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package in 2017 and voting to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018.
Millions of dollars have flooded the race and the airwaves in Maine, with Ms. Gideon raising $23 million from both voters in Maine and national Democratic donors eager to flip the seat and secure control of the Senate.
Collins’s crucial vote for Kavanaugh led to a crowdfunding drive for a future opponent that will soon give Gideon another $4 million or so. Collins has raised a total of about $16 million, according to the most recent reports.
The incumbent appears to be running scared, as indicated by the rather unusual way she greeted Gideon to the general election contest, per the Bangor Daily News:
After winning the primary, Gideon’s campaign issued a news release challenging Collins to five debates beginning in August. When asked about it in front of the Jotul North America stove manufacturing plant in Gorham, Collins laughed and said she wants to do 16 debates [one] in each Maine county and would begin on Wednesday night.
Sixteen debates! That would have to be a Senate record. Lincoln and Douglas only debated seven times. The idea of one debate in each county has some logic to it, though the smallest Maine county, Piscatiquis, has a total population of only 16,785, so a decent crowd of adults might be hard to assemble, particularly given pandemic fears and social-distancing requirements. But it sounds like it’s not completely out of the question:
Asked about Collins’ proposed 16 debates, Gideon said she was eager to debate the incumbent Republican senator and would work with Collins’ campaign to figure out how and when those matchups would take place.
If that works out, it will resolve what both campaigns will be doing from now until November 3: debate prep.