That crowd gathering in Maine isn’t for a sporting event or to buy lottery tickets. No, the scrum consists of potential challengers to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The Associated Press reports:
Half a dozen Democratic prospects are openly considering running against the Republican political powerhouse, while an online fund has generated $3.6 million — and counting — for Collins’ ultimate Democratic challenger. The would-be candidates include Susan Rice, who had been one of President Barack Obama’s closest aides. Rice is not currently a Maine resident — she has family ties to the state — but would bring political celebrity that could make it difficult for the state’s shallow bench of lesser-known Democrats to stand out.
The emergence of a crowded field in a Senate contest two years away underscores the extraordinary political moment triggered by the debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Fighting allegations of sexual misconduct from three decades ago, he won confirmation by a razor-thin margin on Saturday over the screaming objections of Democrats and women’s groups in all corners of the nation.
It was not just her vote in favor of Kavanaugh that lit a fire under potential opponents but her preposterous, unsupported assertion that he was a judicial moderate or even a liberal(!) in the mold of former Justice David Souter. Collins proclaimed: “Despite the turbulent, bitter fight surrounding his nomination, my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court.” He’s already done the opposite — in part by appearing next to President Trump’s highly partisan White House remarks.
Moreover, Collins seemed to go out of her way during her speech, and later on the news talk shows, to assert that she believed Christine Blasey Ford — but didn’t think Kavanaugh had attacked her because he so vigorously denied it. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) was openly dismissive and obviously peeved over that argument, which either assumes mistaken identity or Ford’s lack of mental acuity.
“[Collins] said that she thinks that — she said that Dr. Ford thinks that she was assaulted, which is even more insulting than saying that she gave a very credible account. I certainly believe Dr. Ford,” Hirono said. “Anybody watching her testimony would know, I would say, would conclude that she was being very truthful. And the one thing that she recollects with 100 percent accuracy is that Judge Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh, assaulted her. . . . Well, to say that she thinks that Dr. Ford thinks that she was assaulted, what is that? Is she mistaken?”
In short, Mainers who support abortion rights feel as though they were taken for a ride — assured in election after election that Collins was an abortion-rights supporter, led to believe that Collins truly was undecided on Kavanaugh, and then fed a series of disingenuous arguments to justify what Collins had wanted to do all along.
In voting with her party, Collins exploded the myth that there is a viable moderate wing of the GOP at the national level. (She also voted for the Trump tax cuts.) Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted against Obamacare repeal and against Kavanaugh, is the only Republican senator who votes like a moderate, but hardly constitutes a “wing” or even a faction of the party. (Other Republicans talk a good game in floor speeches or on Twitter, but have sided with Trump on virtually every nominee and significant issue.)
With her over-the-top vote of confidence in Kavanaugh, Collins, in all likelihood, spared herself a primary in 2020 but guaranteed she will face a torrent of criticism for two years — intensified each time Kavanaugh renders the sort of opinion Collins said he never would write. There will be other incumbent Republican senators who may face a Kavanaugh-related backlash in 2020 — Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), who persuaded voters in 2014 he wasn’t part of the “war on women”; Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who went out of his way to insult protesters and smear Ford as a captive of a left-wing cabal; and, if Kavanaugh helps to disable the Affordable Care Act, a slew of Republicans in competitive purple states.
None, however, will be challenged with as much fervor and anger as Collins. Maine voters feel betrayed and they aren’t about to forgive and forget.