Collins’ gov­er­nor run would re­shape midterms

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGHLIN

Sen. Su­san M. Collins sig­naled this week that she could jump into Maine’s gov­er­nor’s race next year, which would give the Repub­li­can a good shot at hold­ing the state’s top of­fice — though it would give Democrats a chance to even­tu­ally win her seat in the Se­nate.

The cen­trist Ms. Collins, who was first elected to the Se­nate in 1996, re­mains a pop­u­lar fig­ure and is per­haps the state’s most dom­i­nant politi­cian at this point.

She said she will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion this fall, but if the 64-year-old chooses to run, and par­tic­u­larly if she wins the gov­er­nor’s man­sion, it could send a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal domi­noes top­pling in re­sponse.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts are closely watch­ing the land­scape as po­ten­tial can­di­dates start to de­clare their in­ten­tions for hot-but­ton midterm elec­tions next year. Repub­li­cans will be try­ing to hold on to House and Se­nate ma­jori­ties in an elec­tion cy­cle usu­ally dif­fi­cult for

the party in the White House, and Ms. Collins’ state­ment was a prime ex­am­ple of how one de­ci­sion can set off a chain re­ac­tion else­where, forc­ing both par­ties to re­cal­i­brate their op­tions.

Repub­li­cans hold a slim 52-48 ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate. But far more Demo­cratic in­cum­bents are fac­ing vot­ers next year, lead­ing some Repub­li­can strate­gists to see a good chance to ex­pand their edge de­spite the his­tor­i­cal pat­tern.

Un­der Maine law, the gov­er­nor is re­spon­si­ble for tap­ping in­terim re­place­ments to fill the re­main­der of a sen­a­tor’s term, which in Ms. Collins’ case runs through 2020.

Ms. Collins made a bid for gov­er­nor in 1994 and lost to An­gus King, an in­de­pen­dent who now holds Maine’s other Se­nate seat.

On Capi­tol Hill, Ms. Collins has carved out a role as one of only a few cen­trists, reg­u­larly break­ing with fel­low Repub­li­cans on so­cial is­sues and seek­ing to forge deals with Democrats.

In Maine, her record has proved a po­lit­i­cal win­ner, earn­ing four terms in the Se­nate and weath­er­ing some rough anti-Repub­li­can head­winds in a state and a re­gion that has been tough ground for the party.

“Whether she runs for gov­er­nor or re­tires, Repub­li­cans will be hard-pressed to find some­one who can repli­cate her elec­toral suc­cess in the state,” said Nathan L. Gon­za­les, editor and publisher of In­sider Elec­tions, a non­par­ti­san cam­paign tracker. “Even in some tur­bu­lent elec­tions, Collins has won re-elec­tion against cred­i­ble foes.”

Ms. Collins’ mod­er­ate stances in Washington have spawned at­tacks from the hard right, which fumed over her op­po­si­tion to Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial bid, and the lib­eral left, which ripped her vote in fa­vor of con­firm­ing Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court.

For now, she says she is do­ing some soul-search­ing about whether giv­ing up her se­nior­ity on Capi­tol Hill out­weighs the chance as gov­er­nor to “work di­rectly on is­sues that are im­por­tant to Maine, in­clud­ing jobs, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tion.”

“The ques­tion for me is where can I do the most good for the peo­ple of Maine,” she said in a state­ment to The Washington Times. “The fre­netic pace and tur­bu­lent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in Washington have pre­vented me from spend­ing any sig­nif­i­cant time think­ing through the pros and the cons.”

Gov­er­nor-sen­a­tor switch

The Port­land Press Her­ald re­ported that Gov. Paul LePage, a tea party-aligned Repub­li­can who has be­come a di­vi­sive fig­ure in Maine pol­i­tics and who can­not seek re-elec­tion be­cause of term lim­its, would be in charge of pick­ing a tem­po­rary suc­ces­sor. That opens the door for Mr. LePage to ap­point him­self to the seat — some­thing that Maine his­to­rian Earle G. Shet­tle­worth Jr. said would be a first in state his­tory.

“It doesn’t ap­pear as though any Maine gov­er­nor has ex­er­cised that author­ity to ap­point him­self to the Se­nate,” Mr. Shet­tle­worth said.

Mr. LePage’s team was mum this week on the pos­si­bil­i­ties, but if Ms. Collins wins and Mr. LePage ap­points him­self, he would ef­fec­tively be switch­ing places with her.

Gov. Joseph E. Bren­nan had the op­por­tu­nity to ap­point him­self in 1980 when Sen. Ed Muskie stepped down to be­come sec­re­tary of state un­der Pres­i­dent Carter, but the Demo­crat in­stead tapped Ge­orge Mitchell and later de­scribed the de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Shet­tle­worth, as the best he ever made while in pub­lic of­fice.

Other po­lit­i­cal ob­servers said Ms. Collins, not Mr. LePage, would end up se­lect­ing her re­place­ment be­cause she would have no obli­ga­tion to re­sign un­til just be­fore tak­ing the oath of of­fice as gov­er­nor.

“She can’t hold both of­fices, so she would have to re­sign mo­ments be­fore her swear­ing-in,” said Jen­nifer Duffy of the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. “Re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances, she would have a lot to say about the ap­point­ment.”

Brent Lit­tle­field, who served as a top ad­viser to Mr. LePage, said Ms. Collins would be a strong gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date.

“Clearly, Sen. Collins has won mul­ti­ple elec­tions in Maine by sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages, and that alone shows that she would be very for­mi­da­ble in any race for gov­er­nor,” Mr. Lit­tle­field said, though he added that it is still early in the process. “No one in the state of Maine was con­sid­er­ing Paul LePage as a gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date or as a likely Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor at this point in 2009.”

The state’s two House mem­bers — Reps. Chel­lie Pin­gree, a Demo­crat, and Bruce Poliquin, a Repub­li­can — are among those likely to pon­der bids for Ms. Collins’ seat in 2020 if she leaves the Se­nate.

Other pos­si­ble Repub­li­can con­tenders for the Maine gov­er­nor­ship next year in­clude Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Gar­rett Ma­son; for­mer Maine Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Rich Ben­nett; Mary May­hew, com­mis­sioner of the Maine De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices; and for­mer state House Mi­nor­ity Leader Josh Tardy.

The list of likely Demo­cratic can­di­dates in­cludes Maine At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Mills; Adam Lee, co-owner of an auto deal­er­ship; for­mer Speaker of the House Mark Eves; and lawyer Adam Cote.

Shawn Moody, an in­de­pen­dent who ran for gov­er­nor in 2010, also is said to be pon­der­ing a run.

Collins

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