BANGOR, Maine — How do you liven up a political campaign launch when you’ve done it four times in the past? Bring in a brass quartet to jazz up the proceedings.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins ramped up her re-election campaign with a statewide bus tour that left Bangor on Tuesday morning.
She was greeted by about 60 supporters, bouncing and waving Collins campaign signs in time with music played by a brass quartet assembled by local musician Brian Nadeau in support of Collins. The musicians played “America the Beautiful” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” among other tunes.
“Let’s hear it for the band,” Collins shouted to the crowd.
The bus tour has become something of a campaign tradition for Collins. A bus carried her and supporters across the state in 1994 when she ran for governor, and again in 1996, 2002 and 2008 in her successful Senate bids.
“We’ve found it’s the best way to cover hundreds of miles and meet with thousands of voters in their hometowns,” she said.
Collins’ Democratic opponent in the senate race, Shenna Bellows, gained some traction among Democratic voters through her on-foot campaign of the state this summer, but a recent poll commissioned by Bellows’ campaign still has her trailing Collins by 24 points.
The bus, carrying Collins and about 40 supporters, left her campaign headquarters — a former Blockbuster store in a strip mall on Hogan Road that is now plastered with Collins campaign signs, T-shirts and a huge American Flag — around 8:45 a.m. Day 1 stops are scheduled in Hampden, Hermon, Newport and Skowhegan.
In Skowhegan, Collins will visit the New Balance shoe factory, followed by Gifford’s ice cream.
Speaking with the media before her bus left, Collins said jobs would prove to be the biggest issue in the coming election. She called the state’s unemployment statistics “misleading,” arguing that jobs people are getting don’t pay as well or carry the benefits of jobs people held previously. Many people are cobbling together two or three jobs to make ends meet, she said.
The latest figures estimate 8,700 fewer people are unemployed in the state compared with one year ago. About 38,800 Maine job seekers remained without work in July. The unemployment rate in Maine held steady at 5.5 percent that month.
Collins also trumpeted the “grassroots leadership team” assembled for her campaign, featuring more than 560 campaign chairpersons across every county in the state, she said, adding that she was grateful for the support.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the bus will make stops in Somerset, Androscoggin, Oxford, York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties. Collins has pledged to visit all 16 Maine counties by election day.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmcccrea213
An earlier version of this story misstated the poll source in the race between Collins and Bellows. The poll, which was commissioned by Bellows’ campaign, had Bellows trailing Collins by 24 points.