Collins wins in Maine, denying Democrats a crucial Senate pickup

By Emily Cochrane

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, claimed victory Wednesday in her bid to secure a fifth term, beating back an avalanche of Democratic money and liberal anger in the most difficult race of her career to defeat Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and strengthen the party’s hold on the Senate.

Her triumph, reported by The Associated Press, preserved Collins’ status as the only remaining New England Republican in Congress. She became the first senator in the state’s history to be chosen by voters for a fifth term in the upper chamber, dashing Democratic hopes of a crucial pickup as their ambitions of a Senate takeover hung by a thread.

Collins said she received “a very gracious call” from Gideon, who also gave a concession speech.

“Regardless of the result, we built a movement that will help us make progress for years to come,” Gideon said in her concession speech.

Collins, 67, who had trailed in most public polling this year, overcame the liberal groundswell in part by centering her campaign on local issues and distancing herself from President Donald Trump, even declining to say whether she would vote for him. Toiling to preserve an image she has carefully cultivated as an independent-minded moderate, she reminded voters of her accomplishments for the state and emphasized her likely ascendance to the helm of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal spending, should Republicans keep the majority, as well as her personal relationships in the state.

National Democrats, furious after Collins became a key vote in support of his tax plan and the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, had singled out Collins as a top target on their path to reclaiming the Senate majority. As a result, the race had become the most expensive in Maine history, with national donors flooding the state with tens of millions of dollars and an onslaught of negative campaign ads.

Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s House, had sought to frame the campaign as a referendum on Republicans, painting Collins as out of touch with the state and in lock-step with Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. She capitalized on the growing polarization of the state in the Trump era, as Democrats and independent voters became increasingly frustrated with Collins’ pattern of expressing distress at the president’s language and actions, only to side with her party on crucial issues.

The pandemic offered an opportunity for Collins to counter the narrative by highlighting her work with Democrats, as she championed what would become a popular federal loan program to stabilize thousands of small businesses across the country in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in the spring. The creation of the Paycheck Protection Program, along with a series of measure to overhaul and replenish it, also allowed Collins to draw a sharp contrast with Gideon, who adjourned the state’s legislature in March and failed to secure bipartisan support to reconvene it.

Collins, whose vote for Kavanaugh spurred critics to amass nearly $4 million for her eventual opponent, further burnished her credentials as a moderate willing to break with her party when Senate Republicans rushed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left in September by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Collins became one of only two senators in her party to object to moving forward to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the election, and the only one to vote “no.” She pointed to her objections after her fellow Republicans stonewalled Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in 2016, when they insisted such a seat should not be filled in an election year.

With Republicans otherwise nearly united on moving forward, they did not need her vote anyway, and the unusual circumstances allowed Collins, who supports abortion rights, to sidestep the question of whether to confirm a nominee who personally opposed abortion.

In a statement, Collins emphasized that she was merely objecting to the process, saying, “My vote does not reflect any conclusion that I have reached about Judge Barrett’s qualifications.”