U.S. Sen. Susan Collins faced — if only briefly — a question about her upcoming reelection bid: Should she stick with the Republican Party or go it alone?
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Collins said “it crossed her mind” to run as an independent, but her loyalty to “the New England brand of Republicanism” overcame that momentary consideration.
As New England’s last Republican in Congress, Collins faces her toughest reelection fight yet as the nation’s increasingly polarized politics trickles down to Maine.
Collins once ranked as Maine’s most popular politician, often drawing plaudits as Washington’s most bipartisan senator and winning her 2014 reelection bid with two-thirds of the vote, but that was before Donald Trump stormed into the national political scene.
A national survey early this year found Collins with the highest disapproval rating of any senator. Recent public polling has given her Democratic opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a narrow lead in the nationally targeted race that could decide control of the U.S. Senate in 2021. The race will be decided by ranked-choice voting, and features independents Lisa Savage of Solon and Max Linn of Bar Harbor.
Collins popularity has fallen particularly among Democratic-leaning voters in the aftermath of her votes for Republicans’ 2017 tax bill and to confirm two conservative justices — Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 — to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unlike past elections, Collins moderate credentials aren’t resonating as they once did among Maine voters.
“I don’t know if people respond as well to that anymore,” former Maine Sen. William Cohen, a Republican whom Collins worked for and succeeded after Cohen left the seat to become President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, told The New York Times. “Therein lies the challenge of being somebody in the middle.”
As her old cross-party appeal has withered, Collins has been relying increasingly on rallying a conservative base to secure a fifth term.
Then came the September death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon, paving the way for President Trump to nominate a third justice to the high court weeks before the election.
Collins broke with her Republican colleagues to oppose confirming any nominee before the Nov. 3 election, drawing the ire of Trump who has said Collins will be “very badly hurt” by her decision and that she was “not worth the work.” She is also the only Republican running for the Senate this year who hasn’t endorsed Trump.
Collins believes it’s still possible to overcome the partisan furies roiling the nation, pointing to Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana’s recent electoral victories in more rural, conservative states, according to The New York Times.
“I still believe that most voters want problems solved and that they’re put off by this us-against-them tribalism,” Collins told the newspaper.