Sen. Susan Collins falls further behind Democrat rival Sara Gideon in latest poll out of Maine

Collins is the most unpopular US senator — and the only elected official in Maine with a negative approval rating

Published August 12, 2020 2:27PM (EDT)

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

Embattled Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine trails Democratic rival Sara Gideon by eight points among registered voters in a new Bangor Daily News poll.

Though Collins registers slightly higher among likely voters, she still trails Gideon by five points in the demo. That figure represents a slight slip from a four-point deficit in last month's Public Policy Poll.

Perhaps more troubling for Collins? She is the only statewide elected official with a negative approval rating. Voters approve of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, by a margin of 55% to 23%, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, by a margin of 55% to 33%. In Collins' case, however, Mainers disapprove of her job performance by a margin of 49% to 37%. Collins, the only of the three officials on a 2020 ballot, has a 12-point approval gap.

Because Maine is a nuanced state which historically prides itself on its political independence, Collins' fate may be tied closer to voters' view of the state. While only 27% of Maine voters think the country is on the right track, 58% think Maine is doing well. 

On the national front, the poll shows presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a comfortable lead over President Donald Trump — 44% to 36%. Trump's approval is also deeply underwater — 36% to 56%. Those numbers are disconcerting if voters identify Collins more closely with the president than Maine. 

To that end, a source familiar with internal Republican Party discussions told Salon that Senate Republicans and election strategists have decided to focus resources almost entirely on holding two seats in November: Collins in Maine and Cory Gardner in Colorado. The Cook Political Report currently marks both races as toss-ups.

Spending in the state supports this revelation. Conservative organizations such as the Federalist Society have invested heavily in Collins, while on the other side, the influential Republican-led never-Trump Lincoln Project has done the same.

One dark money group affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and election strategist Karl Rove has spent millions defending Collins' seat since January. Collins toppled McConnell in public-opinion polling as the most unpopular member of the U.S. Senate the same month.

The same source also told Salon that a series of unproductive discussions with Trump at the White House last month raised serious concerns about the president's commitment and electability, leading the Republican Party to shift to a Collins-centric strategy in Maine. A sizable chunk of Republican efforts are now aiming to divorce Collins from Trump in the minds of voters without alienating enthusiasm from the Trump crowd.

Over the last few months, the Collins campaign has mirrored that strategy. For instance, Collins skipped a tour of the state with Trump amid the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide upheaval in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Collins' advertising efforts have leaned heavily on video testimonials from Maine voters, but a recent Salon report revealed that more than 20 of those testimonials, packaged as "regular" Mainers, came from current or former elected Republican officials and Collins staffers.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Elections Elections 2020 Maine Politics Sara Gideon Senate Senate Republicans Susan Collins