AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s political parties are using misdirection in the waning days of the U.S. Senate race, erecting signs appearing to support the other party’s candidate but look to tie them to party extremes as Democrats try to divert conservatives to a longshot hopeful.
Most of the ads saturating Mainers’ airwaves and mailboxes in the race between incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, have been up-front about the thrust of their messages. But some signs and a mailer rolled out in recent weeks by the parties have used some bankshot tactics and misleading claims.
Signs put up this month in the Portland area reading “TRUMP COLLINS 2020” belong to the Maine Democratic Party, looking to tie her to the divisive President Donald Trump. Its Republican counterpart erected competing ones saying “Vote Sara Gideon” and then “Defund The Police!” It ties her to a progressive movement that she has rejected during the campaign.
It is a low-key facet of the din of messaging in the U.S. Senate race, which has surpassed $130 million in spending by candidates and outside groups. Gideon has narrowly outpolled Collins this year in a race that also features independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn. It will also be decided by ranked-choice voting.
The signs do not look to have been circulated outside of the liberal stronghold of greater Portland and feature disclosures showing who paid for them, though one would have to be close to them to see it. Democrats have worked double-time to tie Collins to the president, particularly since her 2018 vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which spurred a wave of progressive organization against the senator.
However, a FiveThirtyEight tally shows that Collins has voted with Trump less than any other Republican senator in the last four years. The president is also a sore subject for Collins, who refused to support him in 2016 but has not said how she will vote in 2020. He criticized her Friday for refusing to support the confirmation of a new high court nominee before the election.
The retaliatory strike from Republicans builds on a previous Collins attack against Gideon for winning support from progressive groups backing calls from racial justice activists to “defund the police” — which generally means reducing law enforcement funding to beef up social programs.
Both Collins and Gideon said at a September debate that they oppose defunding police, while the senator has run an online ad painting a 2010 police dispatch consolidation that the Democratic challenger supported as a Freeport town councilor as a negative example of it.
A recent mailer paid for by the Maine Democratic Party looks to go in a different direction than the Collins-Trump signs by pushing Republican voters toward Linn, a boisterous independent that has run at times to the senator’s right, highlighting his support for Trump.
For example, the Linn-Collins mailer misleads on Linn’s abortion stance, saying he is anti-abortion while Collins supports abortion rights. But it cites a 2018 Sun Journal article that explains Linn’s view — while he is personally anti-abortion, he does not want to regulate it.
It also cherry-picks Collins’ record to say she does not want to hold Wall Street accountable based on an article noting her support for a bipartisan bill in 2018 that would have rolled back pieces of the Dodd-Frank Act, a large-scale reform effort increasing oversight of banks after the mortgage crisis. Collins was one of three Republicans to support that 2010 bill.
The mailer cites a Sept. 11 ad aired by Linn in support of further Wall Street regulation, but Matthew McDonald, a Linn spokesperson, said he was not aware of which ad it may have been referring to. He did say his candidate is running on “no more bank bailouts and no more corporate bailouts.”
These tactics do not always work: Republicans paid for ads boosting a longshot Democrat to the detriment of independent Angus King in his first 2012 race for U.S. Senate. It did not work as the former two-term governor cruised to victory over a Republican in a five-way race.
Collins’ spokesperson Annie Clark called the Democratic signs and mailer hallmarks of a “dirty tricks campaign.” A spokesperson for Gideon’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.