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.
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.
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.