Susan Collins Has a New Democratic Challenger

Photo: Portland Press Herald/Press Herald via Getty Images

Senator Susan Collins cast her 7,000th consecutive vote earlier this month, according to the Associated Press, but if she chooses to run for reelection, as she is expected to do, her lengthy Senate tenure may be in jeopardy. On Monday, Sara Gideon, who has served two terms as Maine’s Speaker of the House and four as a state representative, launched a Senate campaign challenging Collins (HuffPost had reported earlier this June that Gideon was likely to do so).

A 47-year-old mother of three, Gideon represents the towns of Freeport and Pownal. In her first campaign ad, she recounts hearing a voicemail for her husband, Ben, which urged him to run for City Council. Gideon did so instead and won:

On her campaign’s website, Gideon sketches out a record distinguished by her commitment to an array of liberal policies, including abortion rights and expanded health-care access, and to reining in prescription-drug costs. She frames the choice between herself and Collins as one between someone who puts Mainers first and someone who prioritizes special interests over her constituents. She emphasizes this point in her campaign video by noting that Trump personally thanked Collins for voting yes on tax breaks for the rich and that Collins helped to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Gideon’s legislative record also helps support her claim. She championed Medicaid expansion — a policy that Maine voters later approved by referendum and that former governor Paul LePage obstructed — and helped to override LePage’s veto of a bill that made Narcan available over the counter to Mainers under the age of 21. (Maine experiences high rates of substance-use disorders, which LePage, an admirer of President Trump, once blamed on “guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty … from Connecticut and New York.”) After Janet Mills, a Democrat, defeated Shawn Moody, a Republican, to replace LePage in the governor’s mansion, Gideon has worked more amicably with the executive branch and passed legislation that expanded abortion rights in the state.

But Gideon is still a long way from challenging Collins in a general election. She isn’t the only Democrat in the primary race: Betsy Sweet, who ran for governor on a platform that included single-payer health care, and Bre Kidman, an attorney who is, according to HuffPost, “the first openly nonbinary U.S. Senate candidate,” announced their campaigns earlier this year. Two independent candidates are also running: Danielle VanHelsing, who would, according to the Portland Press Herald, be the first openly trans member of Congress, and Tiffany Bond, who recently ran to represent Maine’s second congressional district and lost to Democrat Jared Golden. Republican Derek Levasseur is primarying Collins from the right.

Although Gideon is well known to Maine voters, Collins will be a formidable incumbent to defeat. She remains relatively popular, though her favorability numbers have declined recently and the proliferation of Collins challengers perhaps reveals a hazard inherent in the senator’s middle-of-the-road approach. Collins has alienated some Republicans to her right, as Levasseur’s campaign demonstrates, and she has alienated plenty more Democrats and independents to her left. Her vote to confirm Kavanaugh may prove especially costly; activists have already raised over $4 million for whichever Democrat challenges Collins, arguing that “Senator Collins betrayed the public trust when she voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.” Maine’s politics have a decidedly anti-Establishment bent. As Gideon points out in today’s campaign ad, Collins has been in the Senate for 22 years. Voters might be ready for a fresh, and more progressive, approach.

Susan Collins Has a New Democratic Challenger