Democrats may need more than Kavanaugh vote backlash to defeat Susan Collins in 2020

Good morning from Augusta. Sen. Susan Collinsvote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has several Democrats at least putting their name out there as potential 2020 challengers to the Republican, whose seat has long been seen as untouchable.

We urge a healthy dose of skepticism before putting the Maine seat atop the list of national swing seats two years from now — as CNN did on Friday — but it’s true that Democrats now have a potentially powerful item to rally their voters against Collins.

The questions are whether that enthusiasm will linger and how Democrats — who have not won a statewide election since 2006 — will do in November after rough cycles in 2014 and 2016. It’s hard to know now how Democratic energy against Collins will be harnessed, though it would be silly for just about any Democrat to take their name out of consideration for the seat.

Democrats are finding fundraising momentum after Collins’ vote, but Republicans will also likely rally to the senator’s aid. Collins’ decision on Kavanaugh effectively sealed his confirmation and President Donald Trump singled the Maine senator out for praise in an interview with The Washington Post, saying she’s “so popular right now for what she did.”

Collins told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that it’s “likely true” that the decision won’t play well in Democratic-leaning Maine, adding, “I just had to do what I think is right.” She also told the Morning Sentinel that she has gotten positive feedback on her vote.

She will still face protests from liberals and a national activist network has raised more than $3.6 million for Collins’ potential challenger in 2020, though the senator hasn’t yet said whether she will run for re-election. She has likened that effort to a bribe.

There could be more money coming in as well. The progressive Maine People’s Alliance told The Huffington Post that donors have pledged at least $1 million to an anti-Collins voter mobilization effort and that it could raise up to $4 million, although all of this remains to be seen.

But Republicans have lots of fundraising might of their own. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told Fox News that Collins will be “well-funded” should she run again. Collins has never needed much national help in re-election fights, but she may get it this time.

The raft of new potential Collins challengers includes two who don’t live in Maine. After Collins’ vote, two national figures were mentioned as possible Democratic candidates — Susan Rice, who was ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser under former President Barack Obama, and Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood. Both own homes in Maine — Rice in Lincolnville and Richards on Portland’s Cushing Island — but they don’t live here full time.

Rice, whose mother was born in Portland to immigrants from Jamaica, said this weekend that she would give it “due consideration” after the midterms. She lives in Washington, D.C. Richards, who lives in New York City, hasn’t responded to speculation about a run.

In Maine, almost no Democrat is ruling it out. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said she is considering running and will make a decision after November election and Emily Cain, a former legislator, two-time congressional candidate and executive director of EMILY’s List said something similar to the Portland Press Herald.

If Democrats do well in 2018, you may see other names in the conversation, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who lost to Collins in 2002, or her daughter, Hannah Pingree, the former Maine House speaker. Only Milbridge physician Cathleen London has declared for the seat as a Democrat so far, but she is little-known and was reprimanded by medical regulators this year.

Reading list

  • One of the most sedate U.S. Senate races is unfolding in Maine. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, is running a subdued re-election campaign against Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey and Democrat Zak Ringelstein. The challengers continue to stake out turf on the far right and far left, respectively, of Maine’s political spectrum, which leaves the center to King, who suggests that despite voting most often with Democrats, Republicans see him as “somebody they can work with.” King remains a heavy favorite despite  running one of the smallest re-election campaigns for a Senate incumbent in 2018. But his fundraising total of $4.8 million as of June’s end was still more than seven times the combined hauls of Brakey and Ringelstein.
  • The first debate among candidates in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District wasn’t sedate. Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat, spent most of Monday’s hour-long televised debate criticizing each other and accusing each other of lying. Poliquin repeatedly called Golden “radical” and “socialist,” which prompted Golden to say “the amount of lies coming out of Bruce’s mouth is astounding.” Poliquin countered by chastising Golden for allegedly mischaracterizing his votes on health care, saying “Jared just has a problem with the truth.” Independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar also participated in the debate, mostly as spectators to the verbal duel between Golden and Poliquin. The only public poll in the contest shows Poliquin slightly ahead, but by close to the margin of error.
  • A Monday explosion rocked the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, injuring five people. Residents across the city — which is about 60 miles from the Maine border — reported feeling the explosion on Thanksgiving Day in Canada. The oil giant termed it a “major incident,” but there was no word on what facilities had been affected. Five people were treated for injuries related to the explosion and all of them had been released from a hospital by Monday’s end. More than half of the petroleum products from the Saint John refinery are sent to the U.S., making it a large player in the Northeast energy market. Crude oil and gasoline futures rose after the explosion.

Fallen Angel

As I have previously written, I supplement the joy that comes my way from covering politics by umpiring baseball games. So I usually harbor great empathy for fellow arbiters when managers, coaches, fans and announcers question their calls or criticize them in ways that demonstrate a lack of understanding about how umpires do their jobs.

Most people are experts who have never had to make a call after getting hit in the mask — or cup –with an errant pitch or had to contort themselves to get the best angle on a “swim move” slide. It’s a lot harder when you have to make the call in a split second without the benefit of instant replay.

Just ask Angel Hernandez, the first base umpire who had an epically bad game Monday night at Yankee Stadium. I can’t defend Hernandez. His work falls outside the realm of “honest mistakes,” as he has been bad for a long time. Even when the stakes are not as high as they are in the playoffs, his calls during the past regular season spurred some classic headlines.

For instance, there is:

— “Angel Hernandez shows once again why he’s a bad major league umpire


— “Umpire Angel Hernandez admits his game-ending Strike 3 call on Anthony Rizzo was wrong

Or simply:

— “Angel Hernandez Sucks at Umpiring

Or from the archives:

— “Angel Hernandez makes one of the worst calls ever

Instead of piling on Hernandez — perhaps I already did — I will simply leave you with this soundtrack, which caused a former minor league umpire from Maine to eject an organist from a Caribbean winter league game many years ago. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.