With less than a week to go until the general election, public poll numbers indicate that Susan Collins is leading Tom Allen in the U.S. Senate race by double-digit percentage points.
A poll released last week by Portland market research firm Critical Insights indicates that Collins has a 12-point lead over her Democratic challenger. A poll released Tuesday by Market Decisions indicates she leads by 17 points, while another poll from Pan Atlantic SMS Group earlier this month indicated she was ahead by nearly 20 points.
According to trained political observers there likely are several reasons why Collins appears to be ahead, but the most apparent factor is that her campaign message so far seems to have resonated with voters better than Allen’s has.
Jamie McKown, a professor of government and politics at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor said Wednesday that the Allen campaign has not been able to find a “magic bullet” for convincing voters why Collins should not be re-elected. Allen is well-liked, he said, but that is not enough to displace a popular incumbent.
“He hasn’t been able to get a lot of traction,” McKown said. “I think it was an uphill battle to begin with.”
McKown said he has worked previously in Democratic politics out of state, most recently in Nebraska, but that he no longer does work for any kind of political campaign.
He said that Republicans elsewhere have been hurt by the unpopularity of President George Bush but that Maine political races seem to be more immune to whatever political climate might be prevailing nationally. Voters in Maine tend to be more comfortable than those in other states with splitting their votes among Democrats and Republicans, he said, and Collins has been adept at distancing herself from the president during the campaign.
“She’s been able to move and pivot a little bit and claim she was doing something different,” McKown said.
Still, McKown said, the race is not yet over and “anything can happen in politics.”
Sandy Maisel, government professor and director of the Goldfarb Center at Colby College in Waterville, also said the poll figures suggest that Allen has not sold voters on his message of change.
Maisel wrote Tuesday in an e-mail that Collins “threatens no one,” does good constituent service, and has run a good campaign. He said Allen’s recent efforts to link himself to Barack Obama, who is leading John McCain in Maine presidential polls, makes perfect sense.
“Allen has attempted to tie her to Bush policies, but that has not stuck yet,” Maisel indicated. “Obama’s expected large win might shrink the margin some, but Allen still needs to make the sale.”
Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Wednesday that the political flexibility of Maine voters could bode well for Collins. Obama may carry Maine easily on Election Day, she said, but that doesn’t mean support for Collins will suffer.
“Maine people have a propensity to be ticket-splitters,” she said. “They’re not necessarily wedded to one political party.”
The fact that Collins is an incumbent helps, Fried said, even though many Republican incumbents elsewhere are not predicted to do well.
Kevin Kelley, Collins’ campaign spokesman, wrote Wednesday in an e-mail that Collins’ effectiveness and willingness to work across the aisle is what sets her apart from Allen.
“Senator Collins is encouraged by these numbers, [and] humbled by the amount of support she is receiving, but she will continue to work hard to earn each and every vote,” Kelley indicated.
Carol Andrews, Allen’s campaign spokeswoman, wrote Tuesday in an e-mail that the poll results are “all over the map.” She said it is not unusual to see independent polling with erratic results.
“[Collins] has been too close to Bush and will not support Barack Obama’s policies for change,” Andrews wrote. “We feel confident about where we are and are working harder than ever to win.”