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Susan Collins' Reelection Chances Could Hinge On Her Support — Or Condemnation — Of Donald Trump

Andrew Harnik
Associated Press
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, leaves the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2019.

As the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump slogs forward, Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins faces a big dilemma — again.

Collins is facing a potentially brutal reelection campaign in a state that split its support between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Collins may soon have to choose between her reputation as a centrist and her political identity as a Republican.

Maine’s high-profile politicians often go to the Grand Parade at the Fryeburg Fair, but many of them skipped the event this year. That includes Susan Collins, who was still on the mind of voters like Ron Richardson, a registered Republican from Corinna.

“No, she needs to go. We need new blood,” he says, “new ideas.”

Richardson says he has voted for Collins in each of her three previous reelection bids — landslide victories often attributed to her independent streak.

Richardson also voted for Trump in 2016, but says he won’t next year.

“I think he’s a crook, to be honest with you. I believe that’s going to come out sooner or later that he really does these things they’re accusing him of. Would I vote for him again today? No,” he says.

Farther down the racetrack, Larry Tanguay of Windham, an independent, says he too has grown weary of the president’s daily drama.

“It’s sickening. Everyday you watch the news and it’s all they talk about. It’s the first thing you see,” he says.

Tanguay did not support Trump in 2016, but he says he has voted for Collins before because she has bucked her party from time to time. He says impeaching Trump is a true test of political courage — one that could change how he views Collins if she doesn’t pass it.

“Maybe it’s time for a change,” he says. “But I’ve got to see what the rest of the year brings here during this impeachment thing.”

Collins has been in this position before. She was in the Senate in 1999 during then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and she broke with fellow Republicans to vote against convicting Clinton.

Collins also hasn’t been afraid of criticizing Trump, as she did in an interview with PBS NewsHour before the 2016 election.

“It was that conclusion that has led me to believe that he lacks the temperament, the judgment, the knowledge and the self-restraint to be our next president,” she said.

But Collins has generally moderated her criticism since Trump’s election, although Monday she did condemn his announcement that he was pulling back troops from Syria.

In an interview with Maine Public Radio over the weekend, she said Trump should not have asked Ukraine and China to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

“That is clearly wrong. That is inappropriate. I would agree with Mitt Romney’s word of it’s appalling,” she said.

Collins also chastised the president for saying last week that the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry is a spy who should be punished for treason.

“For the president to denigrate and essentially threaten the whistleblower in this case discourages others from coming forward,” she said.

Collins’s criticism quickly became national news as political observers look for potential defections in the GOP-controlled Senate that may ultimately have to vote to remove the president from office.

It’s unclear whether her remarks provided any solace to the Democrats and independents already angry because of controversial votes she has taken during the Trump presidency.

But her criticism was almost certainly not well received by people like Jenny Foster, who stopped by the Maine Republican Party tent at the Fryeburg Fair.

“She needs to really side with the Republicans. Don’t go middle. Don’t go the other side,” she says. “I consider that being a traitor.”

Foster, from Buxton, is wearing a sweatshirt that says “Trump 2020, make liberals cry again.”

Her mother, Lorraine Sturgis of Standish, doesn’t don the Trump paraphernalia, but she’s also a supporter.

She whips out her phone to display a Facebook feed loaded with assorted memes and posts supportive of the president.

“I would really like her to vote straight Republican. If she don’t, we’re going to lose this country. We’re going to lose it to the socialists,” she says.

Sturgis says she would consider supporting another Republican if Collins votes against the president on impeachment, a comment illustrating — once again — that the senator’s reelection chances could be tied to the fortunes of a president she never voted for.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.