The four-way, ranked-choice battle for U.S. Senate happening in Maine this year is the most expensive political race in Maine history and one of the most closely watched across the country this year.
With two weeks to go until Election Day, Sen. Susan Collins is facing her “fiercest challenge” yet, according to Andrew Rudalevige, professor of government at Bowdoin College.
“It’s not too surprising to see the level of interest that has occurred,” he said.
Collins is looking to stretch her 24-year tenure in the Senate to 30, but this year is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat and Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. Her campaign released an endorsement by former President Barack Obama on Monday.
While there are two independents in the race as well -- Max Linn and Lisa Savage, who have views to the right of Collins and left of Gideon respectively -- it is Gideon who has given Collins the most trouble in polls throughout the year.
“The general trend has been to have Gideon up by a few points,” Rudalevige said. But he cautioned that, “it’s worth noting that, in state level races, the sample size is relatively low, so the margin of error is somewhat high.”
Collins’ vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, her vote not to convict President Donald Trump during his impeachment and her decision to approve the Trump White House's tax cut plan may have lost her some support among Democrats who voted for her in the past, Rudalevige said. But she has some unique strengths, too.
“Sen. Collins’ greatest strength is her experience, her seniority. She’s made a big deal of the fact that Sara Gideon ‘is from away,’ she has a reservoir of trust built up over time,” he said. For her part, Gideon is “not that well known.”
However, the professor thinks that Gideon is benefiting from points in time where Collins has associated herself with Trump. He is not popular in Maine’s more populous regions and Collins has not said if she is voting for Trump, Biden or someone else on Election Day.
“I think it’s really interesting to see a longtime incumbent senator figure out a way to localize the message,” said Rudalevige, adding that, “from Sen. Collins' point of view, she doesn’t want this election to be about Donald Trump, she wants it to be about her record in the Senate.”
That may mean that Gideon’s party, not her name, is more important to her campaign.
“That’s what Democrats want right now: a firm voice on their priorities,” Rudalevige said.
That desire is reflected in recent fundraising data, with Gideon’s most recent filings showing a third quarter haul of close to $40 million, outpacing Collins by tens of millions.
Still, the outcome of the race will not be known until votes begin being counted when polls close two weeks from now.
“People will be watch this well into the night on Nov. 3,” Rudalevige said.