Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, insisted that her politics have not "changed" after the Lincoln Project launched a $1 million ad campaign accusing her for abandoning her independence in deference to President Donald Trump.
Collins has long touted her moderate credentials during her 23-year Senate career but has seen her support among Mainers plummet after her votes to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and to acquit Trump during the impeachment trial. Collins had long been a popular senator among her state's voters, boasting a 67% approval rating when Trump took office. That number has fallen to just 36% in recent polls, and she was ranked the most unpopular senator in the country earlier this year.
Collins is one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election. The race has drawn a massive amount of outside spending, including a new $1 million ad campaign launched by the conservative anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project, which accuses her of becoming a "Trump stooge" since the president took office. Collins refuted that criticism in a campaign video posted to Twitter.
"My opponents say I've changed. I haven't, but politics sure has," Collins said. "The non-stop false attacks against me began more than a year ago. Especially offensive are the outrageous attacks on my integrity."
After touting that she has not missed a single roll call vote in the Senate, Collins vowed that she "will not back down from doing what I believe is right for Maine."
The ad was released on the same day that the Lincoln Project — which was co-founded by George Conway, the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and Steve Schmidt, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — entered the Maine race with an ad taking aim at Collins' moderate credentials.
The Lincoln Project ad begins by touting former Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, who "called out" former Sen. Joseph McCarthy for smearing his opponents as communists during his Cold War crusade.
"Just like Susan Collins stands up to Donald Trump," the narrator says. "Oh, wait. Susan Collins never stands up to Donald Trump."
"That's why Maine is done with her weakness and excuses," the ad continues. "Collins isn't an independent — she's a fraud. Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump control her voice. She makes excuses for corruption, for criminality, for cruelty, all while pretending she's worried, concerned."
While playing a montage of McConnell and Trump administration officials, the ad goes on to claim that "Collins doesn't work for Maine — she works for them."
"Maine deserves a leader — not a Trump stooge," the ad concludes. "It's time for Susan Collins to go."
The ad is part of a larger Lincoln Project $4 million ad buy targeting other vulnerable Republicans in states like Alaska and Montana, Axios reported.
Collins has received plenty of outside help herself from groups like the Federalist Society, which helped bankroll Kavanaugh's nomination. But she has been massively outraised by her Democratic opponent, Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.
A new Colby College poll released Tuesday showed Gideon leading Collins by five points. To put the numbers into perspective, Collins won her previous re-election race by about 37 points. Collins has seen her approval rating among women drop to just 39% while her approval rating among voters under 35 has fallen to just 24%. Roughly as many voters said they are voting against Collins as those who said they are voting to support Gideon.
The poll also shows Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 11 points in the state. The president's approval rating in the state is only 39%.
"Moderation has been key to the senator's image for more than two decades," Colby College professor Dan Shea, who conducted the poll, said. "If that perception is gone, voters will fall back on their partisanship or attitudes toward the top of the ticket. When combined with the president's low approval rating across the state, that spells trouble for Susan."