In this Oct. 2, 2020, file photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, bumps elbows with Scott Concannon, a worker at Day's Jewelers in Waterville. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I see more people feeling comfortable with it as they see how the process works,” Bangor City Clerk Lisa Goodwin said of absentee voting at a Tuesday virtual event put on by the Bangor Daily News, where she and two other clerks answered questions about the 2020 election. “I don’t think we’ll ever do away with in-person voting on Election Day.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s senior senator is tying herself to stimulus talks as she tries to make a bitter reelection campaign about local issues. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday that she was optimistic about a deal on a coronavirus relief amid jumbled negotiations in Washington after President Donald Trump appeared to call off negotiations before backtracking.

Collins, who is facing the toughest race of her career against House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, has tried to focus the race on local and specific legislative issues, such as the Paycheck Protection Program she co-authored as part of a March stimulus, and her role on the Senate Appropriations committee that she may chair if she wins a fifth term. 

Another relief bill, particularly one that included some of Collins’ priorities such as funding for state and local governments or another round of the small business loan program, may help the Republican senator. But it is complicated by Trump’s erratic approach to another stimulus package and general disagreement in Washington about what the bill should contain.

Collins, who was critical of the president’s announcement Tuesday that he would stop negotiations, took a more optimistic tone after she met with a bipartisan group Wednesday morning intent on getting a deal done. But as Gideon tries to tie Collins to her national party, it may be a risky move to bet on a deal in the latter stages of a bitter campaign.

Collins is not alone among Republicans in trying to distance herself from an increasingly unpopular Trump. Vulnerable senators facing reelection in states like Arizona and Texas are also trying to distinguish themselves from the president as his reelection odds continue to look slimmer amid renewed concern about his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Collins famously denounced Trump ahead of the 2016 election, but has kept quiet over whether she supports him this year. In an interview with Politico earlier this week, she said she did not believe her personal presidential preference was “an important factor in this race,” adding that “my independence is the same as it’s always been.” Gideon is prosecuting the opposite case.

The Maine politics top 3

— “GOP lags Democrats in spending, polling with tough path to power in Maine Legislature,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Minority Republicans in the Maine Legislature continue to trail Democrats in polling while facing a massive spending deficit in key races, raising questions about whether they will be able to win key battlegrounds after two years in the wilderness in Augusta.”

Republicans are putting on a brave face in the approach to the election, but the deficits are big. “If I worried about being outspent by the Democrats, I would be in trouble,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. However, outside Democratic groups are outspending Republicans by nearly a four-to-one margin — a larger gap than 2018 — and the minority party lagged Democrats by 7 percentage points in a recent BDN survey that asked Mainers which party they expected to support in these types of races this year.

— “Maine was at the forefront of the crusade against marijuana before it became a force for legalization,” Troy Bennett, BDN: “Maine has been at the forefront of both the prohibition and legalization of marijuana from the 19th through the 21st century. It was one of the first states to outlaw recreational sales and possession more than 100 years ago. But it was also a leader in decriminalizing pot in the 1970s. Now, Maine is about to become the 11th state with fully realized retail sales of cannabis.”

Marijuana was plentiful in Maine until the late 1800s. An alarmist stage followed, then the state led the way in liberalizing laws around marijuana. A marijuana-based cure-all medication ran on the front page of a Bangor newspaper on March 4, 1858. Those types of quack cures thrived for decades until Maine barred the recreational use of all narcotics in 1915. Alarmism set in, with a 1938 story in the BDN headlined “Marijuana Cigarettes are Making Dangerous Strides” with a hysterical and racist tone, blaming Black musicians for corrupting citizens. In the 1970s, Maine moved to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

— “These Maine businesses make do as federal stimulus remains in limbo,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Whether and when a new stimulus package to help still-struggling companies will emerge remains up in the air, but meantime, Maine businesses have had to chart their own futures without expecting any federal or state help in the months since.”

Negative ads rolling in 2nd Congressional District race

The relatively quiet race is beginning to draw some attention as the incumbent increasingly pulls ahead in the polls. The conversative Congressional Leadership Fund dropped a $115,000 ad buy in the 2nd District through Oct. 13 targeting freshman Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, hitting him for his opposition to the 2017 tax-cut bill and prior support for Medicare for All, which he has since moved away from.

It is not clear the ads will be able to close the gap between Golden and Crafts. The incumbent has held a comfortable leadin the polls and in fundraising throughout the general election. The campaign arm of House Democrats pulled ad buys it had planned in the race, possibly indicating they see the seat as relatively safe.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...