The ever-persistent delusion of beating Susan Collins

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Susan Collins is beatable. She is uniquely vulnerable this election cycle, and a good, strong Democrat can take her out. She has lost a lot of her popularity and is really vulnerable. This is the year she goes down.

You see, this was the argument back in the 2002 election cycle, when now-Rep. Chellie Pingree decided to jump into the race against Collins. Back then, Collins was attempting to be elected to her second term. 

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., right, arrives at the Capitol to extend her perfect Senate voting record to 7,000, as she prepares for a 2020 campaign, in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The belief was that she was vulnerable. Collins — who I worked for years ago —  had previously come in third in the 1994 race for governor and hadn’t beaten former governor Joe Brennan by much, so analysts predicted she could be beaten.

But in the end, even an aggressive campaign from Pingree didn’t matter. Collins smoked her by nearly 17 points.

Despite that humiliating defeat, then-first district Congressman Tom Allen still though Collins was beatable in her next re-election campaign, this time in the 2008 cycle.

Allen was a well known and popular congressman from Maine’s most economically and culturally powerful region. She was seeking a third term, and had previously pledged to only serve two.

Surely, Allen could take her down. 

Nope. Collins ended up winning 61.3 percent of the vote, and beating Allen by nearly 23 points.

Her next election in 2014 wasn’t even a contest, with Collins embarrassing Shenna Bellows by 37 percent.

Yet now, despite all this, a new aspirant enters the field to try, try again. House speaker Sara Gideon is now trying to be the one to finally do it.

Already we are hearing the hopeful speculation. This might be the time. Susan Collins is vulnerable. She’s been damaged by her vote on the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. She’s too close to Donald Trump. This is the year. It is going to happen this time.

Unfortunately for those who make these arguments, they are yet again engaging in wishful thinking.

Their first and most glaring problem is one of partisanship. Extreme left-wing voices seem to believe that everyone in Maine is a similarly extreme left-wing voter. The Kavanaugh vote matters to them. The tax cut vote matters to them. Standing within a 50-foot vicinity of President Trump matters to them. Therefore, it must matter to us all.

That is, of course, nonsense. Even if some Mainers don’t agree with Collins on this vote or that, they will listen to her explanation, and if it seems grounded in reason and logic, they will give her credit for it, even if they don’t agree.

More to the point, though, the big “strategy” already being dreamed up by Democrats seems to circulate around the idea that she isn’t a moderate anymore, and thus needs to be defeated.

There are two major problems with that thinking, though. The first is that for it to be true, Republicans would have to be in love with her and consider her a strong ally of conservatism. Despite her vote on Kavanaugh, the most stridently right-wing activists in the state still do not like her and call her a RINO.

More importantly, though, if you want to attack her for failing to be a moderate, it is probably not a good idea to run an extremist against her. And make no mistake, Sara Gideon has proven herself to be extreme. 

She has presided over one of, if not the most extreme, liberal session of the Maine Legislature in modern Maine history. She has personally proposed tax increases, advocated for massive spending and expansions of government, supported several nanny-state laws passed in this session, and presided over a massive expansion of legislative liberalism.

Not only did she fail to moderate or stop the unhinged nonsense that happened in this session, as Speaker, she was one of the chief drivers of it all.

That isn’t what you want to run on if you’re going to take on Collins, unless you are aspiring to be the latest anecdote in the story of her career.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.