(Updates with response from Collins spokesman in fifth paragraph)
Sen. Susan Collins, one of the most endangered Senate Republicans this election cycle, is keeping her distance from President Donald Trump, whose unpopularity in Maine is pulling down her own standing.
As Trump traveled to the state for the first time as president Friday, Collins plans to be nowhere in sight, and instead will remain in the nation’s capital.
“I will be in Washington working on Friday,” Collins said in a statement from her office earlier this week. The senator noted that last month she visited the Puritan Medical Products facility where Trump will be.
Collins, instead, will be getting ready for the first of four virtual fundraising events, according to a copy of the invitation provided by the Maine Democratic Party. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) will help Collins kick off the fundraising event at the same time the president is scheduled to land in Maine.
The state Democratic Party criticized Collins’ fundraising schedule, saying that she hasn’t held a town hall in Maine in 20 years. When asked about the fundraisers, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said that the senator had “several federal and non-federal events on her schedule.”
Collins’ absence from the president’s tour of a manufacturer of medical swabs for coronavirus tests caps off a week in which she also criticized Trump’s tough approach to protests in the aftermath of the police killing of a black man, George Floyd.
“It is at times like this that a president needs to speak to the nation to pledge to right wrongs and to calm inflamed passions,” she said on the Senate floor at the beginning of the week.
Collins also criticized Trump for clearing out protesters from Lafayette Park across from the White House. She joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing a bill Wednesday to establish a new panel within the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to develop policies to address the social status of black men.
But these efforts to keep Trump at arm’s length may not help Collins’ bid for a fifth term, given state voters’ anger over the lawmaker’s support over the past three years for much of Trump’s agenda, said Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England. That includes her votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and to acquit the president in his impeachment trial.
Duff said Trump, who lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and now trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, is a “stone around her neck” in this year’s election.
“It still looks very tough for her,” Duff said in an interview. “Her approval rating is low. There is not much good polling here in Maine, but what there is implies strongly that Collins is running behind.”
Silent on Trump’s Re-Election
Collins has not gone as far as others in her party in criticizing Trump for his recent rhetoric and actions. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who along with Collins is considered one of the most moderate Senate Republicans, said she’s struggling with whether to back Trump’s re-election. Murkowski said former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ criticism of Trump’s handling of protests were “necessary and overdue.”
Collins declined to react to Mattis’ statement Wednesday in which he said Trump has abused his executive authority and used his presidency to further divide the country. Collins is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
“I have great respect for General Mattis, but I haven’t read the piece yet,” Collins told reporters Thursday. “I intend to read it today, but I haven’t yet.”
In Maine, Collins already is under fire for being unwilling to say whether or not she supports Trump’s re-election. The Maine Democratic Party recently rolled out a new website documenting what it said is her record of dodging the question for months.
But Erik Potholm, a Republican media strategist, said he believes the trajectory of the race against Democrat Sara Gideon has changed since the coronavirus consumed lawmakers’ work this spring and highlighted Collins’ own role in crafting elements of the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) that created the Paycheck Protection Program to provide assistance to small business.
“It has given Senator Collins the opportunity to demonstrate her leadership and effectiveness in delivering for Maine,” Potholm said in an email.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org