Republican Sen. Susan Collins defied prognostications of doom from pollsters to score perhaps the most unexpected victory of the 2020 election cycle, handing a lopsided loss to a Democratic challenger despite a pile of outside Democratic money.
Collins now has the chance to wield her influence over the Senate from the moderate middle — the political space she’s happily called home for decades.
Mainers have embraced Collins’ pragmatism since sending her to the Senate in 1997. But Democrats attacked the senator as a supporter of President Donald Trump as they sought to wrest the chamber from Republican control.
So far, they’ve succeeded in flipping only two seats, in Arizona and Colorado.
As Biden won Maine, Collins outperformed Trump by 7 percentage points, and her opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon, had little success with moderate voters. Collins appeared to beat Gideon with independents while overwhelmingly holding onto Republican support.
The senator said her decisive victory was not a surprise.
On Thursday, she scoffed at pre-election polls that showed her trailing Gideon, including one showing Collins losing her home turf of Aroostook County in northern Maine.
In the end, Collins won Aroostook comfortably and her nine-point statewide win exceeded the expectations of her own pollster, she told reporters on Thursday.
“That is where I’m from. There is no way on earth that I was going to be losing Aroostook County,” Collins said, noting the support she witnessed on a late-campaign bus tour of the state.
“The response was so good I thought, ‘How can these people say I’m losing?’”
Collins has made herself a force in the state, showing up to crack crustaceans at lobster bakes or a bottle of champagne against the bow of a warship she sponsored at Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works.
She reminded voters of the money she brought to the state for Navy destroyers, port projects and bridges.
Collins became a top Democratic target after her 2018 vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And in recent months she drew Republican ire for opposing the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
In Maine, Gideon raised more than $69 million, vastly outspending Collins, but the veteran senator leaned on her long-standing support in rural Maine and in small towns and cities — essentially everywhere but the liberal Portland area — to win.
It wasn’t a typical victory for Collins, who has cruised to victory with little resistance since defeating Democratic former Gov. Joseph Brennan in 1996.
The race drew hundreds of millions of dollars in outside money. That allowed Collins to campaign as a native Mainer against an out-of-state candidate — Gideon is from Rhode Island — who was backed by outsiders.
The result paralleled other high-profile, big-money Senate races around the country.
Democrat Amy McGrath raised more than $90 million for her run against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and was roundly defeated. Jaime Harrison raised more than $108 million for a run against Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and came up short.
Now, Collins is preparing to carve out a role as a senator willing to work with the other side.
She said she’s been thwarted in those efforts lately. Democrats in the Senate admitted that Democratic leader Chuck Schumer discouraged them from sponsoring bills with Collins.
“I hope that that foolishness can go away and that Sen. Schumer will finally put the interests of the country first rather than being so obsessed with his personal power,” Collins said.
And, as they have for almost a quarter of a century, Mainers will be counting on Collins in the Senate.
“What the Lincoln Project or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee thinks doesn’t translate into the voting booth when Sen. Collins has been at your high school graduation ceremony or the fundraiser for a community school project,” Maine GOP executive director Jason Savage said.
“She knows Maine. She is Maine.”
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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