Scramble for the Senate: Maine
Scramble for the Senate: Maine

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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5 replies on “Scramble for the Senate: Can Democrats take out Maine’s Susan Collins with Sara Gideon?”

  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.

  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.

  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.

  4. Sweet is being used in a Collins com­mer­cial, regard­less of her knowl­edge or approval. She was so naive to crit­i­cize Gideon about not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the debates that the RNC decid­ed to use her words against Gideon. That is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly bright, proac­tive thinker. 

    She is real­ly lib­er­al, and that will not work. Maine is not that deep blue — and unlike one com­menter who is a “for­mer” Maine res­i­dent, I actu­al­ly am and have been for twen­ty-sev­en years… and Sweet could­n’t come close in the guber­na­to­r­i­al elec­tion and she won’t come close in the Sen­ate pri­ma­ry. The north­ern part of the state? It’s the entire state that would­n’t and did­n’t sup­port Sweet for Governor. 

    I think Sweet needs to open a bak­ery in Hal­low­ell, her home­town. She bet­ter not run for a third office because most of us are already laugh­ing at her quixot­ic campaign. 

    I’ve yet to donate to Gideon — not sure I will because I donate to Jones, Green­field, and Bul­lock cam­paigns — but any­one who thinks Bet­sy Sweet has a chance of win­ning a statewide elec­tion in Maine is like­ly believ­ing that inject­ing dis­in­fec­tant will elim­i­nate COVID!

  5. 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.

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