It's not often a senatorial race in Maine gathers national attention. But that changed in 2018 when Susan Collins announced her vote for Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, drawing the ire of Democrats hoping she would go against her party and scuttle his controversial nomination. Now Collins, a 24-year senator, is in for the fight of her political life against Sara Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
Here's why it's a BFD.
The fight in Maine is one of several races that could determine which party controls the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 53-47 majority. Should he win, flipping the Senate will be key for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden if he wants to enact his agenda.
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Ever since the Kavanaugh confirmation Collins, 67, has found herself in a no woman's land. Although she sided with her party on that critical nomination, Collins has been a frequent target of Trump for clashing with him on a variety of other issues. Collins was also one of the few members of the GOP to call out Trump saying he set a "poor example" after his discharge from the hospital following a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“When I saw him on the balcony of the White House, taking off his mask, I couldn’t help but think that he sent the wrong signal, given that he’s infected with COVID-19 and that there are many people in his immediate circle who have the virus," she said.
She was also most recently one of the few Republicans who's said she would vote against his latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, out of fairness to Democrats, who were denied a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee during an election year.
It's a position for which many within her own party labeled Collins a traitor and sparked the further ire of Trump, who just last week tore into her on social media. “Well, she didn’t support Healthcare or my opening up 5000 square miles of Ocean to Maine, so why should this be any different,” he tweeted. “Not worth the work!”
But despite Trump's open disdain, the Democrats are eager to tie Collins and the commander-in-chief at the hip. The state Democratic Party has paid for “Trump Collins 2020” yard signs in their push to link Collins to the president. The race has shattered state spending records, with an influx of cash from both sides that's expected to reach at least $106 million.
Collins is also taking fire for the revelation last week that she donated $400 each to the campaigns of two fellow Republicans running for state legislature, both of whom subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy theory. Last month, through her personal action committee, Dirigo PAC, Collins contributed the money to the campaigns of Kevin Bushey and Brian Redmond. QAnon is the unfounded and widespread conspiracy theory whose followers believe the Trump administration is engaged in a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
That's just part of Collins uphill climb as both she and Gideon are competing for the state's pragmatic voters who prize independence and problem-solving. For nearly 25 years, Collins has made that her brand, often winning headlines for stepping in to work with Democrats on compromises.
But Gideon has tried to flip that script on Collins. She's running as a moderate, calling for expansion to health care and stronger environmental protections. But she’s stopped short of backing “Medicare for All” or Green New Deal proposals celebrated by the left flank of her party.
Gideon also pitched herself as a candidate who’ll seek common ground, touting her work in the Maine House, where she rearranged seating and forced Republicans and Democrats to sit next to one another.
Like much of the country, Maine is increasingly divided along partisan lines, with the southern and coastal parts of the state becoming more blue and rural regions becoming more red. Democrats recently overtook independents as the state’s largest voting bloc.
With less than two weeks to go, polls show a close race with neither candidate pulling ahead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.