Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, built a reputation as a centrist politician who represented one of the country’s most centrist states. That platform carried her through more than 20 years in the Senate but now appears to be on shaky ground as the state and the country become increasingly polarized.
According to Morning Consult, Collins is the most unpopular Senator in the U.S., with a 52% disapproval rating — making her even more unpopular than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Cook Political Report lists Collins’s race against Main Speaker of the House Sara Gideon as a toss-up, and polls show Collins trailing Gideon by nearly 10 points.
How did we get here? Analysts agree it’s a mix of Collins’s own actions and the country’s changing direction.
Her stance as an independent who is not afraid to break ranks with the Trump administration caused her to fall out of favor with the President’s base, particularly when it came to supporting abortion rights and voting to uphold Obamacare in 2017.
However, some of Collins’s other votes have alienated her from Democrats who previously crossed party lines to support her. The divisions remain particularly bitter over her 2018 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as well as her support of the Trump administration’s tax overhaul.
“She usually wins because she gets Democratic crossover votes, and I think Democrats are frustrated because she keeps falling back in line with her party and the president,” Rachel Irwin, a veteran Democratic operative, told the Washington Examiner.
Collins also trails Gideon in fundraising, raising $2.4 million in the first quarter of 2020, compared to Gideon’s $7.1 million.
However, this is not the first time Collins has faced a tough election. She won her seat in 1996 by about 30,000 votes and managed to hang on to her seat in 2008 while President Obama won the state.
While the U.S. as a whole has grown more polarized in recent years, creating less tolerance for people who break ranks with party lines or cross support from one party to the other, some analysts say that Maine’s reputation as an independent state might still be strong enough to help Collins win another term.
“[She] won in 2008 despite Obama winning the state pretty handily, and I think if anything, Sen. Collins has proven she’s a survivor,” Republican strategist Tim Cameron told Vox. “Folks there aren’t your typical Acela corridor-type liberals.”
As of mid-July, Collins and Gideon had not agreed to a debate, according to the Bangor Daily News. Both candidates seem to shy away from public questioning, with Gideon favoring small events during the primary and Collins not holding town halls in the state.
Another wild card in Maine is the state’s use of ranked-choice voting, which will ultimately assign support for third-party candidates to either Collins or Gideon until one of the two reaches a majority.
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