It has been a good few weeks to be Susan Collins.
For months, talking heads and political pundits have been telling us that Maine’s senior senator is in trouble. Despite obliterating Shenna Bellows by 37 points six years ago, it seemed to many observers that Collins may be in for a real fight this go around.
The logic went a little something like this: Collins was likely to face off in the fall with Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who was a far more serious candidate than Bellows; she voted in favor of a contentious Supreme Court nominee in Brett Kavanaugh; and those opposed to her were going to be able to raise some eye popping cash. Add to that Maine’s prickly independent streak, and who knows what could happen.
And to some extent, they had a point. Because of those factors, there was no doubt that she was not going to win by that 37-point margin, or the 23-point margin she defeated Tom Allen by in 2008, or the 17-point margin she beat Chellie Pingree by in 2002.
But, are the reports of the closeness of this race really true?
Some people seem to think so, though their hopes really seem to be pinned to a ridiculously flawed poll released at the end of May showing that Gideon was leading Collins. That poll is essentially fraudulent, because the organization that conducted the poll, Victory Geek LLC, has conducted no campaign political polling outside of a single state legislative race in Illinois, and is owned by the owner of Illinois billboard and storage facility.
More serious polling has been virtually non-existent, with Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showing the race within the margin of error back in early March. But PPP has a long and difficult history of publishing what I like to call “agenda polls” that try to set up a narrative in a targeted Democratic race. Besides, even if that poll was legitimate, a lot has happened since early March.
The coronavirus pandemic has of course swept the country since then, and Mainers have now had roughly four months to watch how Sen. Collins has responded to it, while judging Speaker Gideon doing the same.
In Washington, Collins co-authored and then helped pass the Paycheck Protection Program, the small business lending initiative that has helped to literally rescue tens of thousands of small businesses in Maine from financial cataclysm. She has also been integral in the negotiations on changes to the CARES Act, and is a key negotiator in the Senate regarding the federal government’s response to state budget gaps.
Meanwhile, Gideon has done virtually nothing at all. The Maine Legislature adjourned back in March, and has not been back since, despite the fact that even Democratic lawmakers were expressing frustration with Janet Mills’ go-it-alone approach to governing. Senate President Troy Jackson, for instance, said three weeks ago that he felt like the Legislature was “getting close to the point where we may reconvene and, at that time, [Mills’] emergency powers either won’t be the same or they won’t be there at all. She’ll have to work with us in a different way.”
Now we are into July, and still the Legislature has done nothing, and Gideon has dithered, apparently happy to cede responsibility to Gov. Janet Mills and avoid uncomfortable decisions.
New Hampshire, by the way, has been meeting since the second week of June. In a hockey arena. With more than twice the number of lawmakers than Maine has.
Add to that the newly refreshed criticisms of Gideon for once again sitting back and not pursuing an investigation into sexual misconduct by Dillon Bates, a member of her caucus, for months.
And that says nothing of the recent Supreme Court decision in the June Medical Services v. Russo case, which was the much watched abortion decision. Had the court upheld the restrictive Louisiana law on abortion doctors, Collins’ critics would have been able to attack her over Kavanaugh with renewed fury. As it turns out, the court rejected the law, helped by three justices Collins voted for, effectively neutering the issue.
Which is why it is no surprise that internal polling of 600 Maine voters conducted at the end of June by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows that Collins has an 8-point lead on Sara Gideon.
Can that be all that surprising when one candidate has been working tirelessly for Maine, while the other has been on the sidelines? I think not.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.