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“Susan Collins hasn’t changed, but sadly politics has.”
It is a message delivered by Maine broadcasting icon Bill Green in ads being heard all over Maine right now. Green, a registered Democrat, has been starring in a litany of television and radio ads, stumping on behalf of Collins for weeks, and he is absolutely right.
Going into this election, Collins was what she had always been, a popular moderate, pragmatic senator who was a serious legislator and a consensus builder. I had the opportunity to work for Collins in Washington about a decade ago, and I saw up close what a remarkably intelligent, hard working and influential senator she was. She was independent of mind, and was willing — oftentimes to my frustration — to cross the aisle in order to compromise and get things done. That is, of course, what she remains to this day as anyone with even an ounce of integrity would admit.
But that’s not what her opponent, Sara Gideon, is telling us. According to Gideon, Collins has changed. Where she was once an independent voice for Maine, today she is nothing but a hard-right hack doing the bidding of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Rather hilariously, that absurd caricature is directly refuted by the Maine Democratic Party itself, which is sending around mailers to Republican households attempting to boost the candidacy of Max Linn. The mailers say that Linn supports Trump 100 percent of the time, while Collins, “didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and won’t say whether she’s backing him now.”
In any event, the belief that Collins has “changed” seems tied inexorably with her vote on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October 2018. This, says Gideon, was the moment Collins showed that she was no longer independent, and was the moment her reelection chances imploded.
Alas, this is one of many fabrications you have heard this year. In the quarterly Morning Consult survey of U.S. senator approval ratings in the third quarter of 2018 — the three months immediately preceding her vote on Kavanaugh — Collins posted an approval rating of 53 percent compared to a 38 percent disapproval.
What did it show in the fourth quarter of 2018, directly after her vote? You might be shocked to find out that it was identical, once again showing 53 percent approval compared to a 38 percent disapproval. That same pattern held true in the first quarter of 2019 — well after the time opinions were formed on her vote — with Collins sporting a 52 percent approval rating, against a 39 percent disapproval.
In other words, she was just as popular before her vote as she was after. So what ultimately brought down her numbers, and put her reelection in jeopardy?
The answer is a tsunami of negative media funded by a coalition of left-wing interest groups that have poured a shocking pile of money into Maine from out of state, with the intention of purchasing a Senate seat for Gideon.
This was the only path Gideon had, and she took it. From the outset she likely knew that Collins was popular and that the only way she could win was if she assaulted the airwaves with negative ads that dragged down Collins’ favorability ratings.
Yet none of the slime was true. Gideon has told us that Collins is in Trump’s pocket, and her evidence is that she has voted for many of the things that Trump has wanted. Something, by the way, that was true of her votes in support of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, including Supreme Court justices.
Gideon has also told us that money has changed Collins, which is certainly rich coming from a candidate that has accepted nearly three times the funds into her campaign than her opponent has, and is boosted by a parade of dark money groups.
On and on it goes.
But perhaps no lie is greater than the fiction that Gideon tells about herself, that she is a bipartisan consensus builder who gets things done. As someone who has worked in Augusta through her entire speakership and represents the “other side” she supposedly works so well with, I can tell you that she is one of the most entrenched partisans in Maine government.
Collins has proven that she is the last of a dying breed — an honest politician, independent of mind who works like hell to work together with people of all political stripes to get things done. It will be to our eternal shame if we allow the Gideon machine to successfully destroy such a distinguished career.
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.