I know, I know. Bear with me here.
Sen. Susan Collins isn’t exactly the poster child for American conservatism. The Maine Republican boasts a Club For Growth lifetime rating of 35 percent. The Heritage Action scorecard is even worse. They currently rate her at a dismal 16 percent. The senior senator from the Pine Tree State solidified her moderate bonafides with her rejection of Obamacare repeal this year – playing a key role in healthcare reform’s failure.
However, I am here to tell you that if Collins decides to run for Maine’s highest executive office, it will be a boost to both the Republican Senate Majority and the Republican Governors Association.
Collins, currently serving her fourth term in the Senate, is seriously considering a run for governor. She will make a final decision by the end of September and, according to most indications, she will likely go for it.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage – having won election in 2010 and re-election four years later – is term limited and will be leaving office by January 2019. Besides having a public demeanor to the man who currently occupies the White House, LePage is known nationally for having quite a conservative record. His implementation of welfare reform has done wonders – giving Maine higher wages, more employment and showcasing to the country that conservative reforms work.
That is just one example of the many executive accomplishments by LePage. He has done much to turn this particular New England state around. Which is why InsideGov listed him near the top of the list of the most conservative governors in the United States.
Why does he matter? Should Collins run and win the race to succeed him, LePage would be the one to pick a replacement for her vacant Senate seat.
Imagine a conservative like LePage getting the opportunity to replace a moderate like Collins? Remember, we lost the “skinny” ObamaCare repeal measure by one vote. Collins was one of the few Republican senators who bucked her party and voted against repeal. With a conservative rating as poor as hers, it’s hard to image LePage appointing anyone less conservative.
If Collins can maneuver to the Republican governor’s house (referred to as the Blaine House), it would have implications for Republicans across the country. Our Republican majority in the Senate is thin and any change to the balance could be monumental.
So a Collins governorship would be good for Republicans everywhere else in the union. But what about Maine? Would conservatives in her state be “taking one for the team?”
I don’t think that’s the case.
Make no mistake, Maine is a blue state. Voters here haven’t chosen a Republican candidate for president since 1988 (although they now divvy up their electoral points by congressional district). However, Republicans can survive here – they control the state Senate, governor’s office and one U.S. Senate seat – but they must boast moderate records to survive.
Gov. LePage, a staunch conservative, is an anomaly to my above description and is not a perfect reflection of Maine voters. He won both his statewide elections with the help of left-leaning, third-party candidates. Both in 2010 and 2014, independent candidate Eliot Cutler ran impressive third-party gubernatorial campaigns, splitting the vote and helping to pave the way for LePage victories.
Cutler has announced that he will not make third run for governor in 2018 and there is no real indication that another independent can make as strong a showing again. Other independents will be running next year, sure. But the Maine Republican Party cannot bank on other candidates splitting the liberal vote in 2018.
How well do Democrats think their chances are in this race? That can be answered with the fact that they already have nine declared candidates so far.
LePage said in a recent interview that Collins does not have a shot at winning the GOP primary solely because of her moderate record. This prediction makes sense on the surface, but holds no water when you consider the make-up of the race.
Almost every GOP candidate is waiting on Collins to announce a decision before they make up their own minds – telling you all you need to know about how much authority she carries in the state. If she runs, many of them will opt against challenging her. The only serious Republican candidate to have officially entered the race is former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew – a woman who has never run for office before.
It should also be noted that Mayhew served as a longtime employee of LePage’s administration. The governor showered her with praise following her resignation earlier in this year. This detail, along with Collin’s aversion to conservative legislating, is perhaps why LePage is reluctant to endorse the senior senator outright. LePage wants to believe Mayhew will win.
The question should be: who is best positioned to win the general election?
Democrats are running top talent such as Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, several former state lawmakers and others. Many of them are known statewide and carry campaign experience. Contrast this to Mayhew – a campaign novice who has never run for elected office and is virtually unknown to voters. Mayhew would begin a general election at a huge disadvantage against the Democrat nominee. LePage even said it himself during his radio interview: if Collins wins the primary, she has the general in the bag.
Collins is a proven darling in her state. She has won election to the Senate four times by significant margins. In her last election, she won with over 68 percent of the vote.
A Collins victory also gives us a two-for-one bonus. A Republican governor and a more conservative lawmaker in the United States Senate. If Mayhew were to win, on the other hand, her victory would do nothing for conservatives on Capitol Hill.
The choice for the Blaine House’s next occupant is an easy one.