Obama endorses Susan Collins’ Democratic challenger as new poll shows her trailing in close race

Collins' approval and favorable ratings are underwater as she heads into the toughest race of her career

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published August 7, 2020 11:27AM (EDT)

Sen. Susan Collins and Rep Sara Gideon (Getty Images/Salon)
Sen. Susan Collins and Rep Sara Gideon (Getty Images/Salon)

Former President Barack Obama threw his support behind Democratic Maine Senate candidate Sara Gideon in his first list of 2020 endorsements this week as a new poll showed her narrowly leading Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was one of Obama's first five Senate endorsements in a list released on Monday.

"Our country's future hangs on this election, and it won't be easy. But pandemics have a way of cutting through a lot of noise and spin to remind us of what is real, and what is important," Obama said in a statement. "Elections matter. And we need Americans of all political stripes to get involved in our politics and our public life like never before."

Gideon said she was "honored" to have Obama's support in the race.

"During his administration, President Obama expanded access to health care, protected civil rights, and took bold action to address climate change," she said on Twitter. "That's what I've worked to do here in Maine."

Collins, who has been in the Senate since 1996, has long had a reputation as a moderate but her vote to acquit President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial — she argued that he had learned a "big lesson" from the ordeal — soured many Maine voters. The impeachment trial came after the self-avowed "pro-choice" Republican cast a pivotal vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who subsequently voted in favor of abortion restrictions in Lousiana. Collins has also voted to confirm dozens of other anti-choice judicial nominees from Trump. 

Collins is one of the most vulnerable Republicans facing re-election this year despite winning her last race by 37 points. A new Quinnipiac poll released this week showed Gideon narrowly leading by four points, though Collins significantly outperforms Trump, who trails presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden by 15 points in the state.

The poll shows potential trouble ahead for Collins. The so-called moderate trails Gideon among independents by four points and has a net -7 favorable rating and a net -9 approval rating. Nearly half of all Maine voters say Collins has been "too supportive" of Trump. Collins previously held a 67% approval rating when Trump first took office.

Collins was ranked as the most unpopular senator in the country earlier this year, beating out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Though Collins previously drew more than 60% support from women voters in the states, polls have consistently shown that more than 60% of women now oppose her.

Saying she could not understand why voters were turning against her, Collins previously denied that she was legislating differently than in the past.

"I am doing exactly the same thing I've always done," she told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. "I've always cast votes with an eye to how they affect the state of Maine and our country."

But in a state where Trump's favorable rating hovers around 36%, Collins faces the political fight of her life. Collins has seen a boon in contributions from the Federalist Society, the conservative group which bankrolled Kavanaugh's nomination, but numerous outside groups, including a crowdfunding campaign which raised millions after the Kavanaugh vote, have poured millions into the race to defeat her.

"Every decision she makes seems to align her more closely with the Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell movement," Dan Shea, who chairs the government program at Maine's Colby College, said earlier this year. "Here in Maine, that's become the anvil around her neck."

By Igor Derysh

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

MORE FROM Igor Derysh