Women voters who propelled Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to wins in four consecutive Senate races have increasingly soured on the so-called “centrist” Republican as her record has drifted farther right since President Donald Trump's election.
Maine is a uniquely women-dominated state. About 77% of women residents are registered to vote, and 65% of women voters turn out on Election Day, both the highest marks in the nation according to Politico. Collins won past elections with more than 60% support from women, but recent polls have found that more than 60% of women voters oppose her reelection. Her support among women voters under 50 has fallen to just 25%.
Collins' support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh made her a target of women's groups around the country, many of which raised millions to oppose her and have already launched six-figure ad campaigns against her in Maine. But an in-depth Politico Magazine dispatch months ahead of the election found while the “Kavanaugh vote angered” women in the state, “they perceive a larger trend — that Collins abandoned her native Maine in favor of standing with her GOP peers and funding from corporate donors.”
Collins has rejected this argument. She told The Los Angeles Times earlier this year that she could not understand what was driving her plummeting poll numbers.
“I am doing exactly the same thing I've always done,” she told the outlet. “I've always cast votes with an eye to how they affect the state of Maine and our country.”
She similarly told Politico that she still views herself as very much “a centrist who believes in getting things done through compromise, collegiality and bipartisanship.”
But Collins' drift to the right is undeniable. A decade earlier, she voted against her party 31% of the time, the magazine noted. Last year, that number dropped to just 11%.
“I think Susan has forgotten where she came from,” Maine store owner Tricia Cyr told the outlet. “And I do believe she's trying to do everything right for the people of Maine, but her 'right' and our 'right' aren't the same thing anymore.”
The Politico piece cited is worth a read. Here’s a little taste of how voters are feeling about Collins:
Earlier this spring, Heidi Sampson, a Maine state representative, and I were both rushing between town meetings, that iconic form of New England government for which communities assemble to vote on hundreds of issues ranging from Independence Day fireworks to costly infrastructure projects.
Sampson, a registered Republican who thinks of herself as a conservative libertarian, told me I could expect to hear her constituents, many of whom are elderly, press her on VA benefits and Medicare coverage and access to libraries and food pantries—increasingly common concerns in a state with a poverty rate of 12 percent. But during breaks for bean suppers and chats in Grange Hall parking lots, what I kept hearing were informal referendums on the job performance of Susan Collins, Maine’s senior senator.
Sampson, who is a longtime supporter of Collins, said she wasn’t surprised. “I get phone calls from upset people. I get emails from people. Constituents will come right up and complain about Susan to my face,” she told me. “People get really emotional.”
For most of her nearly 24-year Senate career, Collins has been a quiet, head-down, never-miss-a-vote lawmaker known for an unwavering moderate approach that balances ardent fiscal conservatism with a liberal-pleasing reputation for supporting women’s reproductive rights. Then came the polarizing Trump presidency, and suddenly Collins found herself at the consequential center of bitter political battles—on issues ranging from the proposed repeal of Obamacare, which she resisted, to tax cuts and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, which she supported. She is far from the only lawmaker to have cast deciding votes; however, Collins’ reputation has taken a conspicuously harsh hit. In 2015, after winning reelection with about 70 percent of the vote, she was considered one of America’s most beloved senators. Today, she is the most reviled, derided for her increasingly lockstep party-line votes and for the often belabored manner in which she has justified herself. She’s been lampooned by “Saturday Night Live”; The New Yorker recently satirized her for taking hours of deep reflection before deciding to order whatever Mitch McConnell is having for lunch.
But it is in Maine, where “Bye-Bye Susan” bumper stickers have become common, that the opposition represents an existential threat as she pursues a fifth term. Last year, during the presidential impeachment process, Collins’ refusal to attend several town hall forums begat another bumper sticker asking: “Where’s Susan?” Prior to the state’s shelter-in-place order, protesters gathered almost weekly outside her six state offices, taking issue with everything from her decision to side with President Donald Trump on family separation to her embrace of corporate tax cuts. Residents have made a pastime out of sharing videos of gotcha-conversations with Collins at fundraisers and in airports. In February, Colby College issued a poll showing Collins with a 42 percent approval rating in the state. Among women under the age of 50, her approval is only 25 percent. Her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, has a slight edge in recent polls, and the Cook Political Report now lists the race as a toss-up.
Since Collins has tied herself to Trump, then her fate rests with Trump:
Last month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a 57-page memo that appeared to suggest candidates distance themselves, at least a little, from Donald Trump. “Don’t defend Trump,” the memo read. “Attack China.” Faced with outrage from the president’s team, the NRSC claimed it was all a big misunderstanding—the coronavirus talking point was poorly worded, they said, and there was actually “no daylight between the NRSC and President Trump.” Still, the memo seemed to reflect Republican fears that the president’s catastrophic mishandling of the COVID crisis could not only cost them the White House, but the Senate, as well.
Recent polling suggests those fears are warranted. Democrats need to nab five of eight Republican-held seats in competitive races to gain control of the upper chamber; they hold leads in five of the contests and trail by just a point in another. High-profile Republicans are among those who find themselves in jeopardy; Thom Tillis, a Trump ally, is trailing Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by nine points in North Carolina, according to a poll released Tuesday, and Maine’s Susan Collins is behind Sara Gideon 2.5 points in an average of polls. Flipping the Senate blue remains an uphill battle for Democrats, whose presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, leads Trump in national polling averages. But the spate of positive numbers for Democrats in swing races has put the Senate, under Republican control since 2015, in play. “I think it’s become very competitive,” Kyle Kondick, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told the Hill last month.
As Axios reported Wednesday, Democrats have shown momentum in key Senate races as the president’s path to reelection grows increasingly perilous. On Tuesday, polls showed Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who launched his Senate campaign after exiting the 2020 Democratic primary, leading incumbent Steve Daines by seven points in the state Trump carried by more than 20 in 2016, and Cunningham leading Tillis by nine. As Axios pointed out, those promising numbers for Democrats track with an upward trend in the polls for the party in other races: In Arizona, Mark Kelly leads Republican Martha McSally by an average of eight points; in Kansas, Barbara Bollier leads possible Republican nominee Kris Kobach, a staunch ally of the president, by two; and in Maine, Gideon narrowly leads Collins. Meanwhile, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is leading her likely Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, by only a point. Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler has also faced declining poll numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic and bipartisan scrutiny of her stock trades after a January COVID briefing—leading her, Politico reported Wednesday, to lean into her ostentatious wealth in an effort to turn her campaign around.
Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, Trump was a historically unpopular president who made not only himself, but his party vulnerable to defeat—thanks to his corruption, incompetence, and despicable behavior. But his mishandling of the pandemic has accentuated all those shortcomings, perhaps even eroding some support within his previously rock-solid base. “We are starting to see more evidence that suburban voters disapprove of the way Trump is handling the coronavirus pandemic,” Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod told the Associated Press last month. Obviously, there is a core of supporters that will stick with Trump no matter what, like those recently storming the Michigan capitol building, guns on display, in protest of the state’s shelter-in-place directives. But whatever political protection Trump’s cult of personality affords him, personally, may not extend to his allies in down-ballot races.
A dark-money group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is dropping more than half a million dollars on an advertisement shielding Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, an embattled Republican incumbent, from criticism of her response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The group, One Nation, is a political nonprofit that doesn't have to disclose its donors. It also shares offices and staff with the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell super PAC. The 30-second ad will run across Maine on radio, TV and the web.
The ad responds to another recent ad, called “Scrounging,” that criticizes Collins for neglecting to secure enough protective gear and other equipment for the state's beleaguered frontline health care workers.
“Susan Collins defends the president,” the narrator of that ad says, over a graphic that quotes Collins claiming, “The president did a lot that was right in the beginning.”
That ad was paid for by a competing Democratic dark-money organization, Majority Forward, linked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's Senate Majority super PAC, which sees Collins as particularly vulnerable in 2020.
And because of that, Collins is going to vote to confirm this moron:
Collins's support all but guarantees Ratcliffe will have the votes necessary to advance out of the Intelligence Committee with a favorable recommendation.
“I interviewed him at great length over the phone when we were out of Washington,” Collins told The Hill. “I asked him then and again yesterday a series of tough questions about whether he would be independent, present unvarnished analysis to the president and Congress, and he said he would.”
Asked if she was supporting Ratcliffe's nomination, she replied, “I am.”
Collins, a moderate senator who faces a tough reelection fight, was viewed as the most likely potential swing vote on the committee, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority. No Democrat has suggested they will support Ratcliffe's nomination.
If Ratcliffe's nomination makes it to the Senate floor, he'll be able to lose the support of three GOP senators and still be confirmed if Vice President Pence breaks a tie. No GOP senator has said they will vote against Ratcliffe, though several have not taken a public position on his nomination.
Collins's decision to vote for Ratcliffe comes after he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
As I noted at the time, this is an end run around the Constitution’s delegation to the Senate of the responsibility to “advise and consent” on appointments. There’s a vibrant scholarly debate over just how aggressive the Senate’s vetting should be—with the answer often inversely proportional to how much the scholar in question supports the president. Usually, Trump drives a bulldozer through that debate by simply not giving the Senate a chance. But in the case of the DNI job, Trump has cleverly decided to offer the Senate two awful options, and the Senate has meekly acquiesced, with the result that senators now have a choice between an offensive, unqualified Trump toady as acting director, or an offensive, unqualified Trump toady as permanent director.
It’s easy to forget that Trump once had a well-respected director of national intelligence, the former Senator Dan Coats. Too well-respected for the White House’s taste, in fact. Although Coats was able to thread the needle of telling Trump harsh truths for a while, his integrity and independence eventually became too much for the president to bear, and he ushered him out in summer 2019.
Trump then announced he’d nominate Ratcliffe, a largely unknown congressman since 2015 who’d recently begun to make a name for himself as a noisy defender of the president on the House Intelligence Committee. Within a week, however, Trump had reversed himself, after senators made clear, in their quietly harrumphing way, that they had no interest in confirming Ratcliffe, despite the tradition of rubber-stamping members of Congress for Cabinet jobs as a professional courtesy.
It wasn’t just that Ratcliffe would have been the least qualified DNI in the position’s short history, dating back to post-9/11 intelligence-community reforms; it was that even the weak résumé he did have was embellished. Nominating qualified candidates is a good idea in general, but in the case of the DNI, it’s required by law: “Any individual nominated for appointment as Director of National Intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise.” Not only did Ratcliffe not have that, but he’d overstated what he did have. He claimed that as a U.S. Attorney in eastern Texas he had tried suspects who funneled money to Hamas, but he had not; he hadn’t even been a confirmed U.S. Attorney, and his claims to have overseen terrorism prosecutions didn’t hold up.
Ratcliffe asked to withdraw from consideration, and Trump, who hadn’t yet gotten around to actually sending the nomination—he likes to float names the same way he likes acting officials—acquiesced. Senators clapped themselves on their metaphorical backs, congratulating themselves on restraining Trump.
And Collins top opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D. ME), is slamming Collins for voting to confirm Ratcliffe. I received this e-mail from Gideon’s campaign:
Senator Collins revealed this week that she will vote to confirm John Ratcliffe — Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence — ensuring Senate Republicans have enough votes to confirm him.
Ratcliffe is an unqualified “Yes” man who will tell the president what he wants to hear and NOT what he needs to know in order to keep our country safe. He has repeatedly undermined the work of our intelligence community and even gone so far as to accuse them of working against the president.
With her vote, Senator Collins is proving once again that she is nothing more than a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell and Trump. It’s time to replace her in the Senate:
Thank you for your support,
– Team Sara