Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Ethan: Game on! It is official. Sen. Susan Collins has an opponent!!!

Phil: You mean another opponent. The liberal media, Chuck Schumer and MoveOn.org have been running to unseat her for months if not years.

Ethan: As we both predicted, House Speaker Sara Gideon won her primary big. Remember that poll we analyzed that was called “ fake” by team Collins and “ ridiculously flawed” by a right-wing pundit, which showed Gideon beating Collins? Well, that poll predicted Gideon would win the Democratic primary by 47 points and that’s what happened.

Phil: Now that the blue balloons have dropped and the limousine liberal champagne has been consumed, do you think Gideon is ready for her liberal record, and lack of a record, to be exposed?

Ethan: You mean her record standing up to price gouging pharmaceutical companies? Or did you mean when she protected health care coverage for Mainers? Or maybe her accomplishment providing property tax relief to struggling families? Or did you want to discuss how hard she has fought to expand a woman’s access to abortion? Because you are welcome to look at any of it.

Phil: I was thinking more about her record enabling an accused sex offender to remain in the shadows of the Legislature. Or her say-one-thing-while-doing-another by attacking a government program that injected $2 million into her husband’s law firm. Or her unwillingness to date to bring the Legislature back into session to deal with the hundreds of bills pending or to confront the economic hardship so many Maine families and businesses are enduring.

Ethan: Appreciate the attempt at distraction, but it won’t work in this column. Nor will it work in the race. People want substance, not partisan attacks. Gideon has fought for working families for over a decade from the local level to the highest levels of the state House of Representatives.

Phil: Collins has fought for those same working families, and much more effectively, throughout her career in Maine, the Small Business Administration and as our U.S. senator. If the speaker would like to match records, I am sure Collins would welcome that debate.

Ethan: The problem is that Collins has changed. While many Mainers considered her an independent voice back in the day, she has lost a lot of that credibility. I estimate that more than 70 percent of the current electorate has voted for her at least once in the past 20 years, but only about 42 percent are saying they will do the same this time. That is a huge falloff.

Phil: Certainly most races with an incumbent are a litmus test on whether people want to give them another term. But they also have to like the person replacing them. George Bush had a sub 50 percent approval rating going into Election Day 2004 and yet he still beat John Kerry. When people get to know Gideon, I sense she will be the John Kerry of this race.

Ethan: Again, I appreciate the distraction, but this race will be about Collins no longer putting Maine and the country ahead of partisan politics. She used to be someone people trusted. She’s changed.

Phil: Collins is one of the most constituent-focused senators in our history, she ensures that Maine gets the resources we need and deserve, and she is still ranked as one of the most bipartisan senators in the Capitol. She is the same Susan.

Ethan: Well, your side will have your hands full trying to convince people of that.

Phil: You underestimate her connectivity with Mainers; her family roots run more than five generations here. She has done her job with courage and class. These attributes will make a difference when Election Day arrives.

Ethan: You are so nostalgic.

Phil: Speaking of nostalgia, do you remember way back to last week when I predicted that Gideon would win this race with 70 percent of the vote (whereas you said 60 percent)? I am pretty sure that you owe me a glass of the Scotch.

Ethan: Who would have thought you would know better than me how Democrats think. I have a voter registration card, if you’d like to make the switch.

Phil: Just the Scotch please. One ice cube.

Phil Harriman served as a town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling served as mayor and state senator from Portland.