Labor union endorsements for Collins bolster her identity as a rare kind of Republican

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and her 2014 Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows. Reuters photo (Collins) by Joshua Roberts. BDN photo (Bellows) by Troy Bennett.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and her 2014 Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows. Reuters photo (Collins) by Joshua Roberts. BDN photo (Bellows) by Troy Bennett.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins continues to pile up labor union endorsements in her bid for re-election. This time it’s three union locals at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard who will line up behind the third-term U.S. senator.

Members of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO; the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, New England Council/AFL-CIO; and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, New England Council will gather with Collins outside the Kittery shipyard Thursday morning. At least one of those groups, the painters union, announced its endorsement of Collins weeks ago.

I’ve reported it before and I’ll report it again: This is interesting because labor unions endorse Republicans far less frequently than they do Democrats. The three new endorsements put the tally for labor union nods for Collins in double digits, including four union locals at Bath Iron Works.

Collins has been a regular visitor to BIW and PNSY over the years, due in part to committee and subcommittee assignments she has held in the Senate, including the appropriations committee and its subcommittee on military construction and the Committee on Armed Services and its subcommittee on sea power.

Collins’ opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Shenna Bellows, has 14 union endorsements under her belt, including the Maine AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, the Maine State Employees Association and the Maine State Nurses Association, the PNSY Metal Trades Council.

Bellows said Thursday morning that the endorsements for Collins don’t change the fact that Bellows is the candidate in this race who is most concerned about working families. Among other things, Bellows is an outspoken supporter of President Barack Obama’s call to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, though Collins has favored wage hikes in past years and recently has voiced support of a compromise deal that would boost the minimum wage, though not as high as Obama wants.

“We’re thrilled with our level of labor support,” said Bellows on Thursday morning. “Receiving the endorsement of the Metal Trades Council at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at the end of my walk through Maine was incredibly meaningful for me. … I’m proud to be the kind of candidate who gets as many labor union endorsements as we have without needing to ask the question why. My support of working families has been consistent.”

Though Bellows’ 350-mile walk across Maine appears to have moved some support in her favor, particularly among Democrats, she still has a steep and maybe insurmountable uphill climb to victory. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed Collins leading Bellows by 24 percentage points and the incumbent senator is millions of dollars ahead in the money race. In the 2008 election, Collins crushed former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen with more than 61 percent of the vote — in the same year that Obama won the presidency and Democrats roared to victories in most other contested congressional elections.

Bellows acknowledges her tough path to victory and recently has been amplifying her calls for Collins to appear with her in debates, and soon. The first of five scheduled debates between the two candidates is scheduled for October 20, just two weeks before Election Day and two weeks after Mainers can begin absentee voting. In recent elections, somewhere between a third and a quarter of Maine voters have cast absentee ballots.

From a strategy perspective, campaign front-runners have little to gain by appearing onstage with their opponents and calls for more debates usually come from underdogs who need to boost their name recognition or hammer home their messaging. For Bellows, part of that message is that Collins votes too often in lockstep with Senate Republicans.

Collins describes herself as a centrist, a notion supported by some political observers, including a New York Times blogger who on Thursday cited Collins as one of the two U.S. senators most willing to vote against their party’s majority. Data cited by the blog shows that in 2013-14, Collins voted with Republicans 58 percent of the time, which was down from about 80 percent in the early years of her tenure.





Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.