Even though she’s the only blue-state Republican senator up for reelection in 2014, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is in commanding position to win a fourth term. She’s set to kick off her campaign this week with a reception at the National Republican Senatorial Committee but isn’t expected to need too much outside help this time around.
Ensuring that Collins would be running again was a major priority for Senate Republicans. Her statewide colleague, former Sen. Olympia Snowe, abruptly retired last year, handing the seat to Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Holding every GOP seat is a prerequisite for Republicans to win the Senate. But even in a Democratic-friendly state, Democrats acknowledge they face long odds with Collins running again.
“Any Democrat would have a formidable challenge,” said Mike Cuzzi, a Maine Democratic strategist who was President Obama’s New Hampshire political director in 2008. “I think Maine people appreciate that Susan Collins is more of a pragmatic Republican and a little more centrist than the majority of her party.”
King agrees with that sentiment. Asked to pinpoint why Collins has such a tailwind heading into 2014, King said the answer is a combination of effective retail politics and knowing that Maine voters value her reputation as a moderate Republican.
“She makes her own decisions; she’s incredibly diligent. She’s ferocious on behalf of her constituents,” King said in an interview with National Journal. “She visits with everyone who comes down from Maine. My experience with Maine politics is if you work hard, even if people disagree with you, they will generally support you.”
King said he hadn’t decided if he will endorse Collins in 2014, and he added that he was not aware of any potential independent candidates looking to run. King also pointed out that he has a close relationship with Collins, visiting the state together and issuing joint press releases on occasion.
“As far as Maine goes, there’s no daylight between us,” King said.
Collins has a reputation as the last Republican left in New England “who’s not crazy or out of office,” as one Democratic operative put it. Her centrist voting record resonates with Mainers. In the latest National Journal vote ratings, Collins ranked among the most moderate members of the Senate, more likely to vote with red-state Democrats than with many of her Republican colleagues. That independent streak is important in Maine, which has a history of competitive multi-candidate races.
“You don't beat incumbents in Maine,” said Dan Demeritt, a former staffer to Collins and Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
Another reason Maine Democrats are less focused on Collins is that they’re concentrating on beating Gov. LePage who came to office in the 2010 tea party wave, winning with only 38 percent of the vote. Maine has a shallow bench of statewide elected offices. Legislators are term-limited to eight years in office. Maine government doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, and the Legislature picks officeholders such as the attorney general and treasurer in a joint session. Its two House seats are safely held by Democrats Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud. So, with statewide offices hard to come by, focusing on Collins could be a waste of precious resources.
“Candidly most of the chatter amongst Democrats in Maine hasn't been focused on Susan Collins. It's been focused on the gubernatorial race, because Democrats see Paul LePage as priority No. 1. Paul LePage is sort of the antithesis to the Republican politics that play well here in Maine,” Cuzzi said.
That dynamic also limits the pool of any potential conservative Republican challengers. Tea-party activists point to a very disorganized group of conservative activists in Maine.
“You need someone with the resources. We just don't have anybody like that; there's nobody for that element to rally around. That person's a myth,” Demeritt said.