Shadowy poll suggests problems for Susan Collins if she runs for governor

Good morning from Augusta, where we were caught off-guard on Tuesday by an early, shadowy poll in Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial race that looks aimed to ward off U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is considering running to replace Gov. Paul LePage.

The conservative governor has escalated an intra-Republican Party war against the moderate senator since her key vote in late July against repealing the Affordable Care Act, which was the party’s No. 1 priority now that it has majority control over the executive branch and both chambers of Congress.

LePage began his attack on Collins at a private Republican event the weekend after the vote, saying she would “back down” from a run if his base rejected her. Last week, he called Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King “dangerous” in the Wall Street Journal.

It’s hard to say what the impact will be and it’s worth noting that while Collins regularly wins approval ratings of 65 percent or higher in public polls, LePage has never cracked 50 percent.

poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that showed up in Politico on Tuesday seems to bear that out, even though Politico reported that it’s unclear who paid for the poll.

It showed former LePage Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew — the only declared Republican candidate — leading Collins among 672 likely primary voters with 44 percent support to the senator’s 33 percent. But there’s more context cutting both ways for Collins.

First, the very bad: More than six in 10 respondents said they disapproved of Collins and said her vote on Obamacare made it less likely that they’d vote for her, while 55 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who earned LePage’s endorsement.

The kernel of good news for Collins is that Mayhew doesn’t seem terribly strong, either. She has a 27 percent approval rating, but 23 percent disapprove and 50 percent didn’t know enough to form an opinion. A generic Republican also runs 18 points ahead of Mayhew when paired against Collins.

All of this bears out what several Republicans told us last week — that Collins would have big trouble in a primary. It also shows that LePage has the hearts of the base, tallying a 79 percent approval rating among Republicans — two points ahead of President Donald Trump.

But polls this early don’t reflect the environment that candidates will face next June in the primary election. It’s also a giant red flag that we don’t know who paid for the poll. A spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association didn’t respond to a question about whether or not his group funded it. Groups like that would love to run against someone less widely popular than Collins.

In a statement, Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said the senator “is not going to make a decision based on any poll.” Mayhew said in a statement that while she doesn’t put much stock in polls, “this may be a small indicator of the way our campaign is being received by the voters.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • LePage called members of the Legislature “quite simply … hypocrites” in a letter Tuesday afternoon. The governor continued ranting he started Tuesday morning during a radio interview over a bill passed late in the legislative session that when fully implemented will raise the legal age to buy tobacco in Maine from 18 to 21. LePage’s veto of the bill, which put Maine in the company of only three other states that let people smoke tobacco at age 18 but doesn’t let them buy it until 21, was overridden on Aug. 2. Proponents say it will make it harder for high school-aged people to buy cigarettes but LePage argues that anyone who can vote or join the military ought to also be able to buy tobacco. He wrote in his letter to legislators that he’ll propose to raise the voting and military service ages to 21 when the Legislature returns in January. Those proposals are obviously dead on arrival but they’ll give LePage more opportunities to talk about the tobacco 21 law. Here’s LePage’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
  • Then, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, told him to “piss off.”. “Oh boy! Another letter from Maine’s greatest pen pal,” wrote Libby on Twitter. “Seriously, he can piss off.” He deleted the tweet soon after. Here’s Libby’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
  • King spent Tuesday in the Katahdin region and said there’s a “positive ray of hope” for rural Maine. Maine’s independent junior senator met with mechanized logging students at Northern Maine Community College, toured downtown Millinocket businesses, visited the former Great Northern paper mill site and discussed the economy with a non-profit organization called Our Katahdin. He ended the day with a roundtable discussion about a policy push he unveiled in April called “You Can Get There from Here: Growing Maine’s Rural Economy,” which was spurred by a report on Maine’s forest economy. King has sponsored the Invest in Rural America Act, which would provide grants for technical education program, spread broadband internet, help families with issues such as drug treatment and child care, created business incubators and set up investment and apprenticeship programs. The bill is pending in the Senate. — Christopher Cousins
  • There are only 13 weeks until Election Day so you’d better get moving. If you’re like my mother-in-law and like things done sooner (as in NOW) than later, the secretary of state’s office has you covered. As of Tuesday, you can request your statewide absentee ballot for the Nov. 7 election online and it will be mailed to you about a month before Election Day. There are referendums on the ballot to allow a casino in York County and to expand the state’s Medicaid program, as well as a transportation bond and a constitutional amendment to the state’s pension system. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Mike Shepherd is a little young for a midlife crisis, but…

… our editor, Robert Long, predicted he’ll have one at age 30 because “he has always been ahead of his peers.”

“He’ll end up as a barista with a man bun and a breastfeeding 3-year-old strapped to his Swedish-made kid carrier,” wrote Robert. He didn’t clear up how Mike will accomplish the breastfeeding or why the kid would still be doing that at 3, but as he said, Mike is a talented guy.

“Oh God,” said Mike. “That’s too real. A definite possibility.”

He thinks his curl-prone hair will save him from a man bun but the Internets already solved that problem. Anyway, it got Robert and me contemplating what our own midlife crises will be.

“My midlife crisis would either be creating a mini-Fenway park out of bottle caps in our basement or moving to Scotland to become laird of a castle and finally learn how to drink single-malt whiskey,” said Robert. “But those are pretty dull. Mostly, I just want to wake up in the morning and read Daily Brief.”

Typical boss. I’m rooting for you guzzling Scotch, Robert. No one speculated about my crisis, which leaves it up to me.

I’d like to think it’ll be buying a boat (and truck to pull it and so on) but I’d need money for that and I have kids who need $100 shoes every couple months. Buying new canoe paddles doesn’t constitute a crisis. Quitting my job and becoming a rock star is a definite possibility, though I’d have to learn how to play guitar past “Louie Louie.” My wife probably wouldn’t let me become a race car driver and with a face for radio, I’m not going to be a movie star.

All things considered, the most likely scenario for me is buying a goat. Seriously. Knowing me, I’d be worried he’s lonely so would buy a she-goat and end up with lots of kids (the OTHER kind). Before I knew it I’d have a yard full of them, all jockeying to be the first to butt me when I arrive home from work. There would be little round turds everywhere and it’d be blissful.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be able to co-author your Daily Brief. You’d have to expect a lot of pop music in the soundtracks, though, because this. — Christopher Cousins

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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.