In one what is shaping to be the hottest senate race in the country, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is facing the political fight of her life against state House Speaker Sara Gideon, 48, to win another six-year term as voters are angry at Collins over her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite claims of sexual misconduct.
For years, Collins had struck an independent voice in a state where a majority of voters have repeatedly picked Democrats to lead the country. But in an increasingly polarized political climate, there are real questions about whether she can survive this year’s contest.
Gideon and Democrats argue that far from being an independent voice, Collins has been loyal to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) when it most counted, such as on the Kavanaugh vote.
Gideon leads Collins by 5 percentage points in the latest Bangor Daily News poll. She is targeting the state’s independent and Democratic voters, who outnumber registered Republicans. Many of these voters for years have split the ticket to back Collins.
“I believe Susan Collins used to represent Maine in a good way, but not anymore,” a man named David, identified as a “former Susan Collins voter,” says in one of Gideon’s ads.
Collins released an ad of her own pushing back at such assertions.
“My opponents say I’ve changed, but I haven’t,” Collins says on the spot, arguing that she’s never missed a Senate vote and “will not back down on doing what I think is right for Maine.”
Kavanaugh isn’t the dominant issue if you’re watching television in Maine. Democrats are painting Collins as a loyal foot soldier to Trump whose votes with the president outnumber those against him.
The Lincoln Project, the group founded by George Conway, husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne, has been running ads featuring a favorite criticism from the left: Collins’s tame language to criticize Trump.
“She makes excuses for corruption, for criminality, for cruelty. All while pretending she’s worried, concerned, hoping Donald Trump learns a lesson. He never does because she never stands up, never speaks out.”
The financing has also been different this time around. Even though the Maine Senate race has traditionally generated big out-of-state donations and interest, the Kavanaugh vote brought those funds into the campaign even earlier.
Another big change is Collins’s standing in the state. An April poll from Bangor Daily News found just 37 percent of voters in the state approve of the job she has done as senator.
Collins needs to secure the independent voters and Democrats she has long relied on that might be influenced by the messaging surrounding Trump complacency, he said, and one way she might be able to do that is by flipping the script.
“What she needs to do with Gideon is try to make the case that Gideon is kind of this tool, that she’s being used by the Democratic Party to try and get control of the Senate, and they’re using her to try and further their ends, whereas Susan Collins is trying to work for Maine.”
It’s unclear if Collins will be able to change her image this close to the election when voters have already made up their minds.