Returning To The US Senate, Susan Collins Looks To Mend Bipartisan Reputation

The 2020 election, by many accounts, was supposed to be a reckoning for Republicans in the U.S. Senate. But it didn’t turn out that way. One reason for that is the victory of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, which might help her party retain its majority and offer her a chance to repair her own image as a centrist.

For more than two years, Collins’ bid for a fifth term was described in ominous terms: “difficult,” “perilous,” “doomed.”

But 17 hours after polls closed in Maine last week, Collins donned a bright red L.L.Bean coat and announced her decisive victory in Bangor.

“I feel that this is an affirmation of the work that I’m doing in Washington to fight hard every day,” she said.

Collins’ critics will no doubt bristle at her claims of validation.

And Collins Chief of Staff Steve Abbott, who was also her campaign manager for the past several months, acknowledged that her vote to acquit President Donald Trump of impeachment charges in February posed a problem.

“We were in a bad spot right then. That was the tail-end of impeachment, which, no surprise, was horrible for us,” he said.

Collins was already being besieged by a well-funded campaign to sandblast her image as a moderate, an effort piggybacking off her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

And Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who had been anointed by national Democrats as her leading challenger, was hauling in millions of dollars in donations and gaining momentum.

“Susan Collins has been in the Senate for 22 years and at one point maybe she was different than some of the other folks in Washington. But she doesn’t seem that way anymore,” a Gideon ad said.

“This was going to be about the Democrats trying to nationalize this election and have Susan Collins tied to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell,” said Toby McGrath, a political consultant and former deputy chief of staff to independent Sen. Angus King.

McGrath said Gideon’s campaign messaging dovetailed with that national effort. In February it seemed to be working, and Abbott said Collins’ internal polling signaled trouble. But then the pandemic hit, giving Collins a chance to localize the race and remind Maine voters that her longevity in Washington can be an asset.

View the completed article on Maine Public.