Susan Collins doesn't "understand" why voters turned on her. Did she forget her impeachment vote?

75% of Democrats and 51% of independents think Collins voted to acquit Trump in order to protect him politically

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 6, 2020 10:51AM (EST)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) (AP/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) (AP/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, trails her main Democratic rival after watching her support plummet since last year, according to the results of a new poll.

Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, who leads the field in the state's Democratic primary race, has 47% of voters' support to Collins 43%, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. The poll, which surveyed 872 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3%, shows that 10% of voters are undecided.

It is the second poll this year showing Gideon neck-and-neck with the four-term senator, who won her last re-election race by a massive 36 points. Gideon led Collins 43-42 in a Colby College poll released last month, with 14% of voters undecided.

Both polls show massive movement from last year, when a June poll showed Collins leading Gideon by 16 points. They come after Collins sparked anger among Democrats and independents when she voted to acquit President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial, arguing that he had learned a "big lesson" from the proceedings. Collins later claimed that her comments were "aspirational." 

Collins told The Los Angeles Times earlier this month that she does not "even understand" why voters view her differently than her past races, which she won in landslides.

"I am doing exactly the same thing I've always done. I've always cast votes with an eye to how they affect the state of Maine and our country," she said. "I think Mainers will look at my record, remember who I am and where I'm from."

But the new poll reveals exactly why many Democrats and independents who previously supported Collins have soured on her candidacy.

The poll finds that 75% of Democrats and 51% of independents think Collins voted to acquit Trump in order to protect him politically — not because she believed he did not commit an impeachable offense.

Collins claimed that she believed the president's actions did not rise to removal from office. 

"There have been times when I've annoyed the Republicans and times when I've annoyed the Democrats," Collins told the LA Times. "I think most Mainers appreciate that independent approach to the issues."

But Colby College pollster Dan Shea told Maine Public Radio that the moderate image Collins portrayed just does not seem to work in Trump's Washington.

"Sen. Collins' brand has been one of moderation — fiscally conservative and socially liberal. She's pragmatic. She's secular," he said. "That brand of moderate Republican doesn't fit well with the rest of the Republican world — the larger national Republican world that is being led by President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell."

Collins was ranked the most unpopular senator in the country before she cast her impeachment vote, according to Morning Consult. Her decline in the polls began when she voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh despite expressing concerns about the numerous sexual misconduct allegations raised against him.

Collins, who says she is pro-choice despite voting for dozens of anti-abortion judges appointed by Trump, argued that she believes Kavanaugh will not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh heard his first abortion case this week but is not expected to vote to strike down Louisiana's severe new abortion restrictions that were blocked by a lower court.

Shea told MPR that Maine voters have not forgotten her Kavanaugh vote.

"About 40% of independent voters said it would make them less likely to vote for Sen. Collins," he said, adding that the senator won past elections with support from more than 60% of women. The latest Colby College poll shows more than 60% of women opposing her.

Collins has complained that outside groups have targeted her with large ad spending this year. A crowdfunding campaign launched after her Kavanaugh vote also raised millions for her eventual challenger.

"I think the Mainer who is out there working every day hard appreciated my work ethic — that I've never missed a vote — and that I do what I think is right," she told the LA Times. "I don't think despite all the effort of these outside groups that in the end they're going to be able to shake that."

But the majority of Collins' contributions come from out of state, as well. Last year, Roll Call reported that while Collins had raised $1.1 million in the first quarter of 2019, but only $9,200 of that figure came from 17 donations from Maine residents. A super PAC that raised more than $1.5 million to support Collins reported that just $500 of that sum came from Maine residents. A recent complaint to the Federal Election Commission alleged that a mysterious LLC was created in Hawaii for the sole purpose of funneling $150,000 in contributions to the pro-Collins PAC.

Nicole Rogers, a Democrat and University of Maine professor who supported Collins her entire adult life, told the LA Times that she now believes Collins serves outside interests rather than those of her constituents.

"I don't think she's doing what's in Maine's best interest anymore. I think she's following party lines, and I'm interested in someone who has new opinions," she said. "Maybe I'm just more polarized. But I need someone who does what's right, and right now our opinions don't align on what's right."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Election 2020 Maine Politics Sara Gideon Susan Collins