NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 5th, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Can Democrats take out Maine’s Susan Collins with Sara Gideon?

There are now less than six months to go until Novem­ber 3rd, 2020 and the events of each pass­ing day are a painful reminder to many Amer­i­cans that Don­ald Trump needs to be replaced: his incom­pe­tent COVID-19 response, his hor­ri­fy­ing med­ical “sug­ges­tions”, his lack of remorse over police bru­tal­i­ty, his shame­less abuse of reli­gious sym­bols for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es, and his threat to unleash the U.S. mil­i­tary on peace­ful pro­test­ers, to name but a few from the past few weeks.

How­ev­er, the Democ­rats need to do more than defeat Trump if they are to get the coun­try mov­ing for­ward towards a more pros­per­ous future. Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­cy is mere­ly a symp­tom of a decades-long right­ward lurch in U.S. pol­i­tics on every lev­el of nation­al pol­i­tics, and even if Joe Biden wins the White House, cor­rect­ing the lurch will be impos­si­ble with­out a Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty in the Sen­ate.

There are a lim­it­ed num­ber of chances for the Democ­rats to pick up Sen­ate seats, and they need to net three or four more seats for a major­i­ty. One of the best oppor­tu­ni­ties they have to do so is in the north­east­ern state of Maine.

Maine has a long his­to­ry of inde­pen­­dent-mind­ed pol­i­tics, and U.S. Sen­a­tor Susan Collins has held her seat for over twen­ty years (she was first elect­ed in 1996) by por­tray­ing her­self as a rea­son­able Repub­li­can who cross­es par­ty lines.

As recent­ly as her last elec­tion in 2014, Main­ers reward­ed her hand­some­ly for this record, giv­ing her over two thirds of the vote.

Senator Susan Collins

Susan Collins, U.S. Sen­a­tor, (R.-Maine), U.S. Sen­ate speak­ing at For­tune’s Most Pow­er­ful Women sum­mit. Pho­to­graph by Stu­art Isett/Fortune Most Pow­er­ful Women

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Sen­a­tor Collins, the Trump era (or error…) has made her pro­fessed desire for bipar­ti­san­ship impos­si­ble. Since Don­ald Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion, her pop­u­lar­i­ty among her con­stituents has plum­met­ed, to the point that she is now the most dis­liked U.S. Sen­a­tor in the coun­try – even more despised by her con­stituents than the open­ly loath­some Ken­tucky sen­a­tor, Mitch McConnell.

The irony is, Collins has made every­one unhap­py by try­ing to make every­one hap­py. In 2017, she was one of three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors to vote against the “skin­ny repeal” of the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act, block­ing Mitch McConnell and Don­ald Trump’s attempt to take away the health­care of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

For that act of defi­ance, she earned the eter­nal hatred of Trump’s fan­base, who val­ue loy­al­ty to their cult leader above all else (even self-pre­ser­­va­­tion).

Collins was also unable to use the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bur­nish her rep­u­ta­tion as an inde­pen­­dent-mind­ed politi­cian, as her role in the out­come was entire­ly over­shad­owed by the dying John McCain’s dra­mat­ic thumbs down vote.

Hav­ing alien­at­ed the Trump base, Collins went on to alien­ate her more pro­gres­sive con­stituents as well as lib­er­als across the coun­try.

She vot­ed for the 2017 Repub­li­can tax scam bill (a bill that con­ve­nient­ly ben­e­fit­ed her more than most Main­ers), but what real­ly drew fire from pro­gres­sives – espe­cial­ly women – was her vote to con­firm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite cred­i­ble alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al assault against him.

Collins’ deci­sions dur­ing the Trump years have not only destroyed her approval rat­ings, but also dri­ven key allies away from her.

In pre­vi­ous elec­tions, Collins could count on the endorse­ments of a num­ber of right-lean­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors (includ­ing Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia and Diane Fein­stein of Cal­i­for­nia) as well as orga­ni­za­tions such as the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers. In this elec­tion, that sup­port is ebbing away.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers see Collins as “in the way” of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty, and the LCV has endorsed one of her Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents, point­ing direct­ly to the senator’s rela­tion­ship with Trump: “We have an extreme and rad­i­cal pres­i­dent who has so lit­tle inter­est in what’s good for places like Maine.”

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry to choose a chal­lenger to Collins will take place on July, 14th, and two can­di­dates in par­tic­u­lar poll strong­ly against the incum­bent.

The most like­ly can­di­date to take on Collins in Novem­ber is Sara Gideon, the forty-eight-year-old speak­er of the Maine State House. Gideon has the enthu­si­as­tic sup­port of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic party’s estab­lish­ment, man­i­fest­ed through the endorse­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­to­r­i­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (DSCC).

Gideon cap­i­tal­ized on that sup­port imme­di­ate­ly, gath­er­ing over $1 mil­lion in cam­paign dona­tions with­in a week of declar­ing her run. Gideon has gone from strength to strength in the polling against Collins. Back in March, a sur­vey by NPI’s poll­ster Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling put Gideon 4% ahead of Collins. By the end of last month that lead had grown to 9%, accord­ing to a poll by Vic­to­ry Geek.

Maine Senate candidate Sara Gideon

Maine House Speak­er and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate hope­ful Sara Gideon (Cam­paign pho­to)

Pro­gres­sives might get excit­ed at the prospect of unseat­ing the woman who put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, but that is about all they will find excit­ing about Sara Gideon. Gideon’s pol­i­cy posi­tions seem more focused on avoid­ing con­tro­ver­sy than work­ing towards actu­al solu­tions.

While mak­ing lib­er­al use of terms like “reform” and “cham­pi­on,” her web­site omits to men­tion pro­gres­sive poli­cies such as the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, or even com­mit remov­ing the archa­ic and regres­sive leg­isla­tive fil­i­buster.

This lack of con­vic­tion has been picked up by the oth­er promi­nent Demo­c­rat in the bat­tle for Maine’s Unit­ed States Sen­ate seat.

Bet­sy Sweet, a life­long human rights cam­paign­er and for­mer guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date, has the back­ing of pro­gres­sive groups – most notably the Jus­tice Democ­rats. Sweet has crit­i­cized Gideon’s lack of pol­i­cy com­mit­ments, say­ing “peo­ple are hun­gry for real poli­cies and they’re hun­gry for real ideas.”

Sweet has her­self called for bold pro­gres­sive poli­cies on the cli­mate cri­sis, health­care and end­ing polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion. She also polls ahead of Susan Collins, although her lead is far nar­row­er than Gideon’s – she leads Collins by only 1% in the same poll that showed Gideon ahead by 9%.

Despite her lack of inspir­ing ideas, Sara Gideon looks set to become the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee. This is par­tial­ly thanks to her estab­lish­ment back­ing, but she is also like­ly helped by Main­ers’ desire for rep­re­sen­ta­tion that embraces bipar­ti­san­ship.

The past four years have been exhaust­ing for many Main­ers, as Susan Collins has repeat­ed­ly drawn scorn and deri­sion for her speech­es and votes (she has mem­o­rably been par­o­died by Sat­ur­day Night Live’s Ceci­ly Strong in a series of dev­as­tat­ing sketch­es). Should Pine Tree State vot­ers decide to dump Collins, they could play a piv­otal role in flip­ping con­trol of the Sen­ate to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

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4 Comments

  1. As a for­mer Maine res­i­dent for over thir­ty years, I ful­ly agree it is time for Collins to go. I worked with Bet­sy Sweet for sev­er­al years and she would make an out­stand­ing U.S. Sen­a­tor, but the north­ern half of Maine is more con­ser­v­a­tive and might not sup­port her. Sara Gideon has done a good job as Speak­er of the Maine House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and stands the best chance of defeat­ing Collins. I have sent her a con­tri­bu­tion and urge oth­er to do so as well.

    # by David C. Shiah :: June 5th, 2020 at 5:50 PM
  2. I don’t think that Sara Gideon has a clue what Maine peo­ple need. For that mat­ter, nei­ther does Susan Collins! Both are pro­fes­sion­al politi­cians, which leaves us with hold­ing our noses and vot­ing once again.

    # by Daniel Boudway :: June 8th, 2020 at 7:44 PM
  3. This was a very well writ­ten left lean­ing arti­cle. I’m not from Maine but I want Susan Collins out just as much as the next guy and now I know whose cam­paign to donate to.

    # by Jordan M. :: June 15th, 2020 at 9:05 AM
  4. Susan Collins has embar­rassed her­self and the peo­ple of Maine by tying her­self to Trump. Her vote for Kavanaugh and Trump, who are both ser­i­al preda­tors, will have last­ing effects on the coun­try. Maine needs an inde­pen­dent Sen­a­tor that puts Nation above Par­ty. It’s time for Collins to go.

    # by Mark I :: June 26th, 2020 at 9:54 AM