Decision 2020: Susan Collins vs. Sara Gideon (ME Senate)

Sarah MacDonald ’24

Susan Collins. Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In Maine, Republican incumbent Senator Susan Collins’ bid for reelection is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon. Polls show a close race between Collins, who’s seeking her fifth term, and state House Speaker Gideon. This is one of the closest and highest-profile Senate races of 2020 and is part of a much wider national picture.

Susan Collins has historically been praised for her bipartisanship and desire for compromise. She is one of the few remaining moderate Republicans and the only Republican from New England in the Senate. However, with this year’s extremely polarized Presidential election, this could prove to be a disadvantage. She is running for reelection in a state that Trump narrowly lost in 2016, so she must balance appealing to the President’s base against not turning more moderate voters against her. She’s seen as not “Trumpian” enough for many Republicans but too Republican for most Democrats. In 2014, Collins won 68.5% of the vote, but since then, as the state turns more against the President, she has not been doing nearly as well in the polls.

Sara Gideon. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Challenging an incumbent is difficult, so Sara Gideon is working hard to make the case that she will be an effective leader on the national stage. She is also trying to present herself as the obvious choice for people who are unhappy with President Trump. Supporters of Gideon say she is easy to work with and a great compromiser in the state chamber. On the other hand, anti-Gideon Republican legislators say she never votes for anything other than the Democratic Party line unlike Collins’ history of voting bipartisan.

Collins has historically embodied Maine’s independent mindedness. Collins refused to support President Trump in 2016 and recently broke with Republican Party leaders when she declared she will oppose any nominee to replace Justice Ginsberg until after the election. However, some Mainers are unhappy with some of Collins’ recent votes that make her appear to be just toeing the party line. She voted for Trump’s 2017 tax cut, and she voted to acquit Trump in his impeachment trials. She also voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Along with Collins and Gideon, there are two independents running in Maine for the Senate seat. The state is going to use a ranked-choice voting system in November, which allows voters to rank their choices among the four candidates. The purpose of this is to allow people to really express their full range of preferences about all the candidates. This system was first used in the state’s 2018 federal elections. The ranked-choice voting comes into play if no candidate wins a majority of the votes – more than 50%. Polls are showing that it is possible neither Collins, nor Gideon will win a majority, which means the ranked votes of those who vote for independents could play a crucial role in the outcome of the election. It’s unclear how the votes for the two independent candidates will break, but polls are showing it may be very close. Maine’s ranked-choice voting system could very possibly determine who wins the Senate seat.