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Susan Collins Wins Fifth US Senate Term After Sara Gideon Concedes

Murray Carpenter
For Maine Public
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Bangor, Maine, after Tuesday's election.

Updated 4:34 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4: 

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins clinched her fifth term on Wednesday following a brutal campaign marked by a record $200 million in spending.

Speaking at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor Wednesday afternoon, Collins told supporters that Gideon had just called her to conceded.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran. And regardless of the outcome, together, we built a movement that will help us make progress for years to come,” Gideon said in her concession.

With 85 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial vote tallies showed Collins holding a 51-43 percent lead over Democratic challenger Sara Gideon on Wednesday morning. Collins’ lead was just over the majority threshold that could preempt a runoff under Maine’s ranked-choice voting law. While a runoff could have helped Gideon chew into that deficit, it’s unlikely there are enough second-place votes from either independent Lisa Savage or Max Linn to overtake Collins if one was necessary.


“I feel like this is an affirmation of the work that I’ve been doing in Washington to fight for the people of Maine everyday,” Collins said.

Collins triumph came after a yearlong campaign in which Democrats and aligned interest groups organized a massive and well-funded effort to unseat her. Collins has outperformed presidential candidates in her own party in previous elections, and she did so again on Tuesday. Not only did Collins fare better than President Donald Trump, who lost the statewide vote to Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, she also denied Gideon big victories in several districts that often propel Democrats to victory.

Gideon, who did not make any public statements after the polls closed Tuesday, initially released a short statement from campaign manager Amy Mesner vowing to see the race “through to the finish.”

“Over the coming days, we will make sure that every Mainer has their voice heard in this election,” Messner said in a statement.

Collins’ win was bolstered by her support from a series of Democratic-leaning towns. Chief among them was Lewiston, a Democratic stronghold that leaned heavily for Biden and Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden on Tuesday. Collins won the city 48-46 percent, a result that foreshadowed the Republican’s strength in other districts that Gideon needed to win by large margins, but didn’t. The latter included towns like Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and York. Although Gideon carried those towns by an average of 6.5 points, she was well behind her party’s standard bearer, Biden, who in some cases won those same towns by 20 points or more.

Gideon’s showing was part of a difficult night for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates nationwide as the party’s chances of retaking control of the chamber diminished throughout the evening. As of Wednesday morning, Democrats and Republicans each had 47 seats. However, several potential pickup opportunities, including in Maine, were on the verge of slipping away or already lost.

The results nationally and in Maine illustrated the limits of nationalized contests that leaned heavily on linking Republicans to Trump. That was the case in Maine, where Gideon relentlessly hammered Collins for refusing to say whether she supports the president, votes during his presidency and for not doing more to hold him accountable for his norm-busting conduct. Gideon’s platform drew more than $70 million in donations, including $45 million from out-of-state contributors. But despite that funding advantage, she was unable to deliver a fatal blow to Collins’ wounded reputation as a moderate.

Tuesday’s results in Democratic-leaning towns suggest many Maine voters split their ticket — choosing Biden for president and also Collins. During the final debate with Gideon, Collins appeared to signal to voters who might be wary of giving Democrats full control of Congress when she was repeatedly pressed to declare whether she wanted Trump to win the presidency.

“What I don’t want to see is one-party control in Washington, because I think that would lead to a far-left agenda being pushed through Congress, including packing the courts, and I think that would be a disaster,” Collins said.

Collins also ran a campaign focused on her 26-year record in the Senate, as well as her work drafting the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans to businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. She often used her pandemic efforts to draw a contrast with Gideon, the current speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, which has been adjourned since March despite efforts to call a special legislative session.

Collins also repeatedly stated that she could become chairwoman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, a powerful position that she suggested could yield benefits for Maine residents.

Collins’ win was the most challenging reelection of her 26-year political career. Navigating the Trump presidency has been difficult, especially after she declared him unfit for the office in 2016. Her votes for the 2017 GOP tax overhaul and to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh led to steep declines in her once enviable popularity. However, on Tuesday, those votes proved far less lethal than Democrats had hoped.

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