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February 10, 2016

Why Isn’t Maine’s Susan Collins Vulnerable?

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On one level, Maine’s lone Republican in Congress, Sen. Susan Collins, looks like a defeat waiting to happen.

She is a Republican from a state that went comfortably for Democrat Barack Obama twice. And she is from New England, a part of the country where the GOP is all but extinct in federal office.

Collins almost appears to be a Republican version of Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a moderate Democrat who is vulnerable next year because his party label, which once was an asset back home, has become a liability as his state’s politics has changed.

But while Collins’ profile suggests vulnerability as she mounts another bid for re-election, there are no signs of a serious challenge on the horizon. In fact, veteran Democratic insiders scoff at the idea that the moderate Republican will even have to break a sweat in her sprint to a fourth term. A Public Policy Polling (a Democratic firm) survey in January showed Collins with a 65 percent job approval rating and holding leads of 18 points and 25 points over the state’s two Democratic House members.

Maine’s political landscape certainly doesn’t favor Collins, who is the only Republican senator seeking re-election this cycle from that state. Obama won the state by just more than 15 points in 2102 and by more than 17 points four years earlier.

Republicans lost both chambers of the Maine Legislature in 2012 (after winning them two years earlier in the Republican wave), and the only reason Republican Paul R. LePage won the governorship in 2010 was that he narrowly finished first in a three-way contest that split the Democratic vote.

Democrats currently hold both of the state’s U.S. House seats, and the last Republican to win a congressional race in the state was James Longley in 1994.

But Maine voters apparently like Collins’ moderate voting record and low-key style. She ranks as the most liberal Republican still in the Senate according to National Journal’s vote ratings, and more importantly, she has created a separate identity for herself apart from her party.

In 2008, a bad year for Republicans, Collins absolutely destroyed her Democratic opponent, then-Rep. Tom Allen, a popular former Portland mayor, by more than 22 percentage points.

That victory was an eye-opener for Democrats, and it probably is one reason why no Maine Democratic political heavyweight has come forward to challenger her.

In that election, according to the Maine Senate exit poll, Collins won 63 percent of men and 59 percent of women. She won all age groups, income categories and education categories. She won a third of Democrats, two-thirds of independents and a majority of those who said they disapproved of the way George W. Bush was handling his job. She also won 58 percent of those voters in Allen’s congressional district.

And perhaps most stunningly, Collins won 40 percent of those Maine voters who said that they voted for Obama for president.

As long as Maine voters focus on Collins’ name rather than on her Republican label, it’s difficult to see any Democrat defeating her. The first step for Democrats, of course, would be getting a candidate with stature and resources. And at this point, nobody like that is waiting in the wings.

  • terjeanderson

    The article doesn’t address the greatest threat to Collins’ re-election prospects – rather than in the general election, it would be losing a low turnout Republican primary to a challenger from the right. No serious candidate from the right has emerged, but past polling has shown that Collins has iffy favorables within the Republican Party where voters think she is no conservative enough.

    While that certainly isn’t very likely, someone like Bruce Polquin is more likely to unseat Collins than a Democrat is (although if that happens, it would hand the seat to whoever is the Democratic nominee).

  • camdenme2

    This RINO needs to go !!!

  • Jackson Euler

    She ranks as the most liberal Republican still in the Senate” and yet she is still either too stupid or too bigoted to come out in support for marriage equality for all! She is a hack who does what the Goppies tell her to do. Vote for the Iraq War? Ok. Vote for the Bush Tax cuts? Ok. Vote against ObamaCare? Ok. Vote against a balanced-approach to the deficit by raising taxes on the rich? Ok.

    She REALLY is as stupid as she sounds when she speaks.

    • Andres Bacalao

      Jackson: Allow me to expand your intellectual horizons. Susan Collins is as stupid as a fox. She’s about as stupid as Congressman Bobby Rush; the guy who cleaned Obama’s clock (“You can have more degrees than a thermometer…..) in the 2000 Democratic Illinois 1rst Congressional District Primary- and would do it again if Obama were idiotic enough to run against him.
      My regret is that not all Republican candidates are as ‘stupid’ as Susan Collins. I don’t envy her opponents.

  • meinpassat

    “Maine’s political landscape certainly doesn’t favor Collins, who is the
    only Republican senator seeking re-election this cycle from that state.”

    She is the only Republican Senator from Maine, period. Unless a Senate seat is vacant and a special election occurs, only one Senate seat per state is contested in each election cycle.

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