Thursday, August 13, 2020

Race of the Day- Maine U.S. Senate

Maine U.S. Senate
82 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Much is on the line this November in Maine. One of the two states that could split its Electoral Votes on the Presidential level could become the first state to have the candidate who receives the second most votes win. No, not in a runoff at a later point, but from the same pool of voters. Ranked choice voting, utilized in other countries, has recently come to Maine, and in 2018, it was responsible for knocking off a Republican Congressman, even though he had gotten more votes than his Democrat opponent. Briefly explained, this system means that if a candidate fails to receive 50 percent of the vote, the people who voted for various third party or Independent candidates can then decide by having their votes allocated to their second or third choice or however many it might take (mostly applicable in primaries) until someone reaches a majority.
Democrats are looking at this system as a bit of an insurance policy, in their efforts to knock off incumbent moderate Republican Susan Collins. One would think that those who have bemoaned the Electoral College and the candidate receiving the second most votes wining Presidential elections might have second thoughts about the legality of this. Still, the rules are the rules, and all candidates and parties know it going in. I wonder how the vast majority of people who will vote for either Collins or her Democrat opponent will do with their other options? Just skip them altogether? I do not like this system on merit (and have no real issue with general election runoffs), but I want to point out that if it existed in my state, I would likely be able to exercise my conscience of writing someone in who is not Joe Biden, (as I intend to do) but then picking Biden as a second option. Whomever wins this Senate race in Maine, I kind of hope actually places first on Election Night, via majority or pluralilty.
Even without ranked choice voting, Collins would be in for her toughest race yet. She has not lost an election since her first won in 1994, when as the Republican nominee, she placed third in a four way Gubernatorial election. Just two years later, Collins was elected to the Senate, defeating the Democrat who finished second place in the Gubernatorial race. The winner of that contest was Independent Angus King, who years later would join Collins in the Senate from Maine, still an Independent but basically a Democrat. The last time around, King crossed party lines by endorsing Collins' reelection and the two have become close. Thus far, he has not endorsed a candidate in 2020 for the seat, but what he does will be highly watched. My hunch is that with the Senate majority on the line, King is not likely to endorse the Republican this time. It is worth noting that another one of her close friends in the Senate, Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, is once again supporting her reelection.
Maine is a state considered mostly left of center, but has a long history of electing moderate Republicans, and most recently moderate Republican women to the Senate. Collins has been targeted before but has won reelection easily each time. In her most recent 2014 campaign, she won with 69 percent of the vote. One would think she could basically hold this seat as long as she wanted based on an electoral history like that, but Donald Trump has changed so much in politics and anybody who shares his party label is now at risk, especially in New England.
A lot of people thought Collins might choose retirement, which would almost guarantee that Democrats would pick up this seat, but she has embarked on a campaign for a fifth term. To say the least, the pro-choice Senator, who also cast a deciding vote against an Obamacare repeal, has never been very popular with many conservatives in her party. Somehow this year, she managed to avoid a primary challenge.
Collins has been supportive of Supreme Court nominees of both parties, which many, but not all Republicans can also claim. During the Brett Kavanaugh saga, she was one of the last to announce support for him, saying among other things, that she believed he would not endanger the legality of abortion. Democrats pledged to beat Collins at the polls based solely on that vote.
In the 1990s, Collins voted against convicting Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial. That was not much of a surprise, as a handful of Republicans did the same. Early this year, she joined every Republican (save for the Honorable and courageous Mitt Romney) in voting to also acquit Donald Trump in his Senate trial. Once again, Collins was one of the last to announce her vote, even though the ultimate result was a foregone conclusion. She said she believed Trump might have "learned his lesson" about his behavior in regards to his attempted dealings with Ukraine. Clearly, Trump did not and Collins should have known better. To say the least, this vote only made Democrats even angrier at her. At least she was consistent in voting wrongly to acquit two corrupt Presidents.
Immediately after the Kavanaugh vote, Susan Rice, the former Obama National Security Advisor said she was planning to run against Collins, even though she had never run for office nor ever lived in Maine. Rice claimed to be serious, but never took any real steps towards running. Considering Collins past landslide wins, most of which came against females, a bunch of the better known Democrats in the state also declined to run. The party managed to coalesce behind Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the State House. Like the new Vice Presidential candidate of her party, Gideon is half Indian-American, and her mother's family came from Armenia. Seemingly, she would become the second ever Indian-American to serve in the Senate, after Kamala Harris. The primary was held about a month ago, and Gideon beat two more activist liberal female opponents with 72 percent of the vote. There was definitely not a need for ranked-choice voting there.
Right now, the polls show a close race, but with Gideon ahead, albeit with a somewhat larger than normal amount of undecided voters. This race is probably even competitive simply because of Donald Trump who is not popular statewide (although he could potentially once again win the Electoral Vote of the more rural 2nd Congressional District.) Collins did not vote for Trump in 2016 and she is one of the rare Republicans running anywhere this cycle who is not openly supporting his reelection, although she has seemingly refused to outright say she will not vote for him again, insisting she is focused on her own race. Clearly, she is trying to walk a fine line between being independent and possibly capturing Trump's Twitter wrath, leading to right-wing voters in the state not voting for her in November, which is already a concern.
I think the voters in her state would basically have been willing to look past the Kavanaugh vote (of course I agreed with her on that one), but that if she loses, it will be because she voted to acquit Donald Trump. It is harder to remember that she was the only other Republican Senator to join Romney in calling for witnesses in the trial. All of the chaos and drama surrounding Trump has engulfed Collins on both sides.  A lot of conservatives think she is a RINO squish and liberals mock her for merely voicing "concern" about the myriad of things about Donald Trump that should outrage all Americans. Considering all this, it is a bit surprising or impressive perhaps that she even wanted to run for reelection.
In spite of everything, I think this race is closer than some others with endangered Republican incumbents. I would not count Collins out as she will attempt to focus on her long-standing reputation of bipartisanship and moderation in a body and a Congress where such a thing is thought of as being much lacking but needed. Her allies will attempt to try to raise ethical issues about Gideon or talk about how it might harm Maine to lose Collins' seniority and influence. Ultimately though, this race will be a referendum on the incumbent. Perhaps some undecided voters, in the center and on the right, will begrudgingly vote for her again. Clearly though, she needs to win a chunk of anti-Trump voter in order to win and that may be tough.
Maine usually has a bunch of other choices on the ballot, and it seems like they mostly lean left this year. This means that Collins not only has to beat Gideon outright, but likely has to get over 50 percent of the vote. At this moment, that looks very iffy.
U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

6 D (2 Safe, 2 Lean, 2 Tossup) 
9 R (2 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

41 Democrats (35 holdovers, 2 Safe, 2 Lean, 2 Tossup)
39 Republicans (30 holdovers, 2 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)


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