PORTLAND, Maine - Republican Sen. Susan Collins will enter a fourth term in Congress. The incumbent senator defeated Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows with nearly 70 percent of the votes. Collins' reputation as a moderate, as well as endorsements from groups that typically lean Democratic, helped her cruise to victory.
That cruise to victory was more like a sprint. Almost immediately after the polls closed at 8 p.m., The Associated Press and CNN called the race in Collins' favor. But it was nearly an hour and a half later when the incumbent senator officially declared victory.
"We did it!" she told supporters gathered at the Eastland Hotel in Portland.
Collins says she covered 10,000 miles on the campaign trail and visited more than 100 communities. But she says endorsements - ranging from gay rights groups to environmental groups to workers unions - played a significant role in her success.
"Together we put together a coalition, including the great men and women at BIW, and I thank them so much," she said.
Throughout the campaign, Collins maintained a comfortable lead over Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows, polling between about 20 to 40 points ahead. Her reputation as a moderate also worked in her favor. But it was a notion challenged by Bellows.
"That was an example of the misrepresentations of this campaign that were so disappointing," Collins said, "because, in fact, if you look at my record, I'm rated as the most bipartisan senator in the entire Senate, on either side of the aisle."
Bellows says her campaign focused on working-class issues, such as raising the minimum wage and increasing Social Security. The political newcomer left her eight-year post as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine to take on Collins in what she referred to as a "David and Goliath" scenario. Only this time, David didn't win.
"A first time candidate always faces the challenge of funding and name recognition," Bellows says.
Bellows credits her 350-mile "Walk Across Maine" from Houlton to Kittery last summer to gaining name recognition. Looking back, she says she wished she had done it earlier. As for funding, Bellows said in her concession speech she was proud that she did not accept corporate PAC money for her campaign.
"Our average contribution was $55," she said. "Our median contribution was $10. Half of our contributions were $10 or less. This was a grassroots campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Bellows says she isn't sure what's next for her, only that she will focus on making a difference. "We are building a movement for change. And true change is never easy," she said. "And we've learned in this work that you don't always win the first time. But we have made a difference. I'm in this for the long haul. Together, this is just the beginning."
Collins, meanwhile, says she has three priorities as she returns to Congress: More jobs and a stronger economy, better control of health of care costs, and - after traversing the state in a campaign bus - improving transportation.
But the over-arching priority, she says, is ending the hyper-partisanship in Congress that blocks action on important issues. "I'm going to continue to represent those common sense Maine values, to strive for consensus," she said, "not to score partisan political points, but to seek common ground."
Collins says she's proud to represent the moderate center in Maine.