One of the most hotly contested and most closely watched races in the country is the fight for U.S. Senate in Maine.
Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon, independent Lisa Savage and independent Max Linn.
Based on polls, fundraising, national interest and local visibility, the race is a tight battle between Collins and Gideon.
Collins hopes her years of service in the Senate will help get her re-elected. She is seeking a fifth six-year term.
One project she highlighted was the dredging of the Royal River in Yarmouth. It was filling with silt and Yankee Marina turned to Collins for help.
“She was the one that went to bat for us, and without her it wouldn’t have happened,” Yankee Marina President Deborah Delp.
Delp said the $4 million project was carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers after a nudge from Collins.
“She’s collaborative. She does reach across the aisle, she does care about Maine people, and she’s willing to talk with everybody, and that’s what we all need right now,” Delp said.
The Yarmouth project is the kind of constituent service that has underscored Collins’ bid for re-election. She argues that her 24 years of Washington experience and seniority in the Senate pays dividends for Maine.
“That’s the kind of assistance I provide to Mainers all the time, and it’s something that my knowledge of how to get things done, my relationships with agencies at the federal level, allow me to solve problems, and I love doing that,” Collins said.
Collins has spoken frequently about the federally-backed Paycheck Protection Program that has helped small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collins calls herself the chief architect of the $650 billion in loans that became forgivable when employers spent most of the funds received on employees.
“Three out of four small businesses got forgivable loans under that program. It brought $2.3 billion into our state,” Collins said.
Much of her campaigning has been at locations that received PPP loans, including an aluminum maker in Brunswick, a grocery store in Auburn and a gear manufacturer in South Portland.
Collins said her experience in office and being a native Mainer matters.
“I know this state like the back of my hand. I don’t have to learn for the first time the problems that are facing our fishermen in Lubec or our loggers in Jackman. They’re my friends. They’re people I’ve talked to over the years and have assisted over the years, and that’s what I think makes a real difference,” Collins said.
Collins, who grew up in Caribou and has lived in Bangor for the past 26 years, said her roots are deeper than Gideon’s, who is from Rhode Island and has lived in Freeport for 15 years.
“It doesn’t matter where she’s from, but what does matter is I have a depth of knowledge that she simply lacks,” Collins said.
“So, if you’re going to talk about seniority and 24 years, let’s actually use it to help us here in Maine. I don’t see that happening,” Gideon said.
Gideon, the Maine Speaker of the House for the past four years is the daughter of a doctor. Her top priority is expanding health care access.
In Augusta, along with Gov. Janet Mill, Gideon helped lead efforts to make the protections of the Affordable Care Act part of Maine law, including not allowing insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
Gideon also helped lead the way to expand MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, to 60,000 low-income Mainers, and expand access to legal abortion.
In a symbolic nod toward bipartisanship, Gideon made Democrats and Republicans sit together in the House chamber. She said Collins’ reputation for bipartisanship has been undermined by backing President Donald Trump, though Collins has not said whether she supports his re-election.
“Sen. Collins has a record just like I have a record, and her record over the past four years reflects someone who is voting with Donald Trump 94% of the time,” Gideon said.
That rating from Congressional Quarterly includes voting to confirm 181 Trump-appointed conservative judges to the federal bench, most notably Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and opposing the president’s removal from office in his impeachment trial.
“She has not stood up to this president when it matters most,” Gideon said.
Gideon rejects criticism that she and other democratic leaders adjourned the Maine Legislature in March due to the coronavirus, largely ceding management of the pandemic to the governor.
“An attempt from the Collins campaign and Sen. Collins to deflect what is not happening or happening in Washington, D.C.,” Gideon said.
Gideon increasingly wants voters to see the race through a national lens that she is an ally of Joe Biden and tying the results in this race to ending the Republican control of the Senate.
“Whether we’re thinking about health care, whether we’re thinking about the cost of pharmaceuticals, whether we’re thinking about people in substance use recovery, this is what matters — if Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader, then we don’t see progress on these issues, and a vote for Susan Collins is a vote for Mitch McConnell,” Gideon said.