PORTLAND, Maine — In a Portland rally to celebrate the end of her 350-mile campaign walk from Houlton to Kittery, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows cast herself not as a liberal or a conservative choice but as a “working class” one.
Bellows also tied her opponent — incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, who is generally considered a rare moderate among the nation’s Republicans — to more divisive members of the GOP, including Gov. Paul LePage and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, described a vote for Collins as a vote for Republican control of the Senate — and, by extension, what she called conservative efforts to “increase tax breaks for millionaires, defund Planned Parenthood and privatize Social Security.”
Bellows wrapped up her north-to-south statewide campaign walk earlier Tuesday in Kittery, where she accepted the endorsement of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s Metal Trades Council.
The walk finale also coincided with the release of the Collins campaign’s latest television advertisement, which spokesman Lance Dutson said Tuesday illustrates how responsive the Republican is to the individual problems of everyday Mainers, a message he suggested undermines Bellows’ efforts to portray herself as the more in-touch candidate.
Bellows’ walk resembles a similar trek made in 1972 by Republican House candidate William Cohen. Cohen — who, like Bellows, was considered an underdog at the time — went on to win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat. He spent 24 years in the House and Senate, then served as the U.S. secretary of defense.
Bellows was welcomed to the Monument Square event Tuesday by Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, and Forrest Genthner, a college student who depicted himself as an example of the type of person who would benefit from Bellows’ promised efforts to reform student loan programs and raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
“College is becoming unaffordable,” said Genthner, who attends St. Joseph’s College in Standish and wants to become a history teacher. “I’m only able to afford college by living at home and working 20 to 40 hours per week at a minimum-wage job.”
Genthner argued that, in contrast, Collins has resisted President Barack Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage goal and, in 2011, supported a budget plan that proposed to reduce student Pell Grant funding by $5.7 billion and cut maximum grants per student by $845.
Bellows added she would seek expanded benefits for Social Security recipients and would fight the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement between 12 countries — including the U.S., China, Japan and Singapore — which critics argue could lead to a greater movement of American jobs overseas.
“I believe in a Congress that looks out for working people and offers steady ground and a hand up when the actions of a wealthy, privileged few send the economy spiraling downwards,” Bellows said. “This is not a liberal or conservative position: It’s a working-class position. That’s the kind of representation Mainers are demanding, and that’s the kind of senator I’ll be.”
Collins’ campaign focused on the work the three-term incumbent has done for constituents. In a new television ad released Tuesday, Turner resident Carol Watkins is shown explaining how Collins helped straighten out a paperwork mix-up at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that cut her off from disability payments after her husband died.
Dutson suggested the TV spot is illustrative of Collins’ responsiveness to the needs of everyday Mainers. He also disputed Bellows’ characterization of the Republican as being ineffective in the battle to help college students afford education.
“Sen. Collins has been recognized as a national leader in working to make college more affordable,” Dutson told the Bangor Daily News. “She has successfully fought for funding for programs, such as Pell Grants and TRIO, which are the key to education opportunity for low-income, often first-generation college students.”
Dutson added that Collins supported a bipartisan law, based on a bill written by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, that would lower interest rates for education loans.