Susan Collins can probably vote however she wants on Kavanaugh

In 1996 a Republican who had never held any kind of office faced former Democrat Joseph E. Brennan, a former two time Governor of Maine. Democrat Bill Clinton bettered Republican Bob Dole by 21 points in Maine’s Presidential vote tally — so the Senate race was a shoo in for Brennan, right? It couldn’t even be close. Well it wasn’t particularly close — the Republican, Susan Collins won by more than 5 points.

In 2008, Democrats won the House popular vote by 10.6%, Maine’s two Congressional seats by 10% & 35%, flipped nine net Senate seats and Democrat Barack Obama won 17% more votes in Maine than Republican opponent John McCain. Collins was toast, right? She won by 23 points.

Susan Collins is good at winning Senate elections in Maine. Like, really good.

Mainers like Collins — Morning Consult’s July 2018 poll rated her the 10th most popular Senator in the country.

If you didn’t know what this article was about and I asked you to name states where no statewide elected official has lost re-election since 1978 — what would you guess? Well, if you’d asked me the same question a week ago I would have rattled off deep Red and deep Blue states. Some of the would be correct (Hawaii) and some wrong (Alabama). It would take me a long time before I mentioned Maine.

Maine is weird. The closest a Pine Tree State Senator has come to losing re-election in forty years is Susan Collins’s 17 point victory in 2002. Such numbers might not surprise in a deeply partisan state but for 22 of those 40 years Maine has had split caucus Senators. From 1994–2012 Maine had two Republican Senators. But since 1992, Democratic Presidential candidates have won every statewide vote in Maine! Maine is weird.

The party affiliation of Maine’s last five Governors were: Dem;GOP;Ind;Dem;GOP respectively. All won re-election. Maine’s three statewide elected officials are: in the Senate — moustachioed Democratic-caucusing independent Angus King, and “Republican moderate” Susan Collins — arguably the Upper Chamber’s two most sober politicians and Governor Paul LePage an uncouth, homophobic, race-baiting gasbag.

If there’s two conclusions I hope you’ve drawn so far it’s that i) Maine is weird & ii) Maine doesn’t turn on it’s own. Which is (part of) why I’m puzzled by political pundits promulgating the notion that Susan Collins vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court will decide her re-election chances in 2020.

Prima facie this is very odd — based on national polling, Maine’s partisan lean and state polling it seems ~10%-15% more Mainers oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination than support. Would a highly popular Senator expected to win re-election by 15+ points really be undone by one vote, on which her state is actually pretty evenly split, taken two years earlier?

Well, they say — she’ll face a primary if she votes no. So what? Collins could run as an independent and win — just as Angus King did in 2012. She wouldn’t have to worry about splitting the centre and right wing votes and finishing second in a 39/38/23 type election — Maine recently instituted ranked-choice voting. She’s probably safe either way.

But probably safe ≠ safe. Collins’s popularity and nous combined with Maine’s peculiarities mean she’s likely to comfortably win re-election. By 2020 her vote on Kavanaugh probably won’t affect her vote tally in Maine by more than 1 or 2 points either way. She can afford to get it “wrong”, if it costs her 2 points. What Collins wants to avoid is a disaster — a scenario where, for whatever reason, her 2018 vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court cost her 5 or more points in Maine’s 2020 Senate election. And that’s why I think it’s better for her to vote no.

It is easy to imagine a scenario where a Collins yes vote looks disastrous in 2020. The scope of Brett Kavanaugh’s mendacity in Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was astonishing. It is also highly likely Kavanaugh lied his arse off in previous confirmation hearings. Democratic subpoena power (Democrats are highly likely to investigate Kavanaugh if they win Congress) will likely reveal many of these as provable lies.

It’s not clear how much Brett Kavanaugh’s porkies about working on Charles Pickering’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit will affect Maine’s 2020 Senate election. Probably not much. His rampant fibbing in Thursday’s hearing is another matter.

The White House precluded the FBI Kavanaugh’s numerous high school and college friends and classmates were appalled by his lying. Collins could be in danger if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh and a Democratic controlled Congress reveals the depths of his deception.

I don’t know whether Brett Kavanaugh whipped it out in a Yale dorm room. Based on public information, it’s far from certain. But if he did, there were multiple witnesses, many of whom may remember it. In this way the allegation differs greatly for those of Christine Blasey Ford. What if the Senate confirm Kavanaugh and an eyewitness, someone who shared Kavanaugh’s dorm and has no reason to lie, confirms the dick-in-face story? What if two of them do? This might lead to a serious impeachment effort. It would push Kavanaugh from slightly unpopular to deeply unpopular. He may face legal charges.

This is a nightmare scenario for Collins (she’d also be in trouble if, contrary to Collins’s confident claims, Kavanaugh made serious inroads in Roe). Confirming an alleged sexual assaulter to a lifetime position when the evidence suggests at least some of the allegations are true only to rapidly see definitive evidence the nominee did in fact, commit sexual assault is a pretty big error. I’m not sure even someone as popular as Collins could survive it.

Of course, such a scenario is also bad for other Republicans. So why don’t they vote no? Well, Republican Senators in deep red states can probably survive proof of Kavanaugh’s sex assaults. Most Republicans think the Senate should confirm Kavanaugh even if it were proven he committed attempted rape (and presumably perjury too).


Almost all of them would be in serious trouble in a primary race. And apart from Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski (up for re-election in 2022), none of them would have reasonable expectations of winning a Senate election as an independent/write-in.

Maine (and Alaska) is weird.

Twitter: @DinoStraciatela