2013-11-14 / Opinion

The next race for Senate

A reasonably good pollster this week released numbers on the 2014 U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and her thus-far sole Democratic challenger.

Collins has strong name recognition, is a well-regarded moderate incumbent and has brought lots of goodies back to Maine. Her poll numbers reflect that.

Shenna Bellows, former executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, has been in the race two weeks and is well-known only in fairly liberal circles, and her poll numbers reflect that.

Right now — as with any incumbent except those for whom sex-filled Tweets or presidential birth certificates are standard fare — it’s Collins’ race to lose. She’s leading Bellows 59-20 percent, with 22 percent undecided. Even Democrats favor Collins by 14 percent.

If the poll had been taken a week before, it is difficult to know where Bellows would have been, but likely something less than 20 percent.

The election is nearly a year away, but Bellows is running like the election is next week. She criss-crossed the entire state in her first week and has plans to visit every hamlet in Maine.

Both women are strong and brilliant. A debate between them will be a beautiful thing to behold, if both focus on issues and don’t fall into the trap of negative campaigning.

Collins has a record to run on, and that record is mixed.

She’d been strong on women’s reproductive rights. In more recent years, though, she looks a lot less moderate. She’s cast votes indicating she thinks employers should have right to veto workers’ birth control coverage, for example.

She voted with insurgent tea party freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on the federal shutdown — three times — before finally voting to end it.

There’s her pledge to serve only two terms. If Collins wins next November, it would be her fourth.

And it’s not entirely clear where she stands — in a state that has firmly endorsed it — on same-sex marriage. Does Collins think the Defense of Marriage Act should be overturned? Her spokesman has said she “will carefully follow the Supreme Court’s consideration” and the “issue of same-sex marriage is best addressed by the individual states.” So she’s an outlier among the delegation and the Maine populace on that one.

For her part, Bellows will have to deal with her association with the ACLU, considered by conservatives as evil as selling one’s soul to Satan.

However, a growing number of libertarians are looking at Bellows through a different lens, having lost confidence in the Republican Party — and Collins in particular.

These disaffected “liberty” types see Bellows as better than Collins on drones, marriage rights, marijuana legalization and a range of personalrights issues.

It’s possible the tea party may yet mount a primary. That would damage but not defeat Collins, if it happens, yielding a Collins camp with a mix of moderate Republican and Democratic votes looking askance at each other in the general election.

Bellows, meanwhile, apparently needs to get libertarian and rightward Republicans to ally with the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

For the people who care about them, the next few polls will be interesting, as Bellows meets voters and becomes a household word. In mid-February, Congress will have to take another run at budget issues and the debt ceiling, and Collins will be pressed again to show where she stands.

We hope Collins and Bellows agree to several debates, in different formats, in different parts of the state, preferably before Labor Day 2014.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping the Maine Democratic Party avers from recent practice and backs a brilliant young female legal mind who can address core party values in a state that desperately needs a fresh face and new ideas in the U.S. Senate.

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