By Jim EllisSept. 25, 2020 — Our original quick analysis may be incorrect. Soon after the announcement that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) made a statement indicating that she would not support until after the election a motion to proceed that would allow the Senate to vote on confirming a Supreme Court replacement.
Responding, we believed that Sen. Collins’ decision had sealed her own doom in regard to winning her re-election campaign against state House Speaker Sara Gideon (D). We reasoned that at least a part of Maine’s conservative bloc would likely turn away from Sen. Collins, one who they do not particularly trust anyway, yet a group she needs to close the polling deficit she faces against Gideon. This was also predicated upon the belief that her move would gain little from the center-left or mostly left voter who may have supported Sen. Collins in previous elections.
A just-released Maine political survey, however, suggests that such a conclusion may not be so clear. Moore Information, polling for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the first Maine Senate data released into the public realm after Justice Ginsburg’s death (Sept. 20-22; 500 likely Maine voters, live interview), finds Sen. Collins actually gaining support to pull into a 42-42 percent tie with Gideon. This is the first survey showing Sen. Collins even or ahead since another Moore Information poll conducted in late June posted her to an eight-point lead.
The Maine seat is critical to determining the next Senate majority. Routinely, we believe it is part of a four-state firewall that Republicans must maintain to uphold their relatively slim 53-47 chamber majority. The other three being converting Alabama, and retaining Iowa and Montana. Losing any one of these four states would likely turn the focus to North Carolina where Sen. Thom Tillis (R) would be forced to score a come-from-behind win, which could then pave the way for Republicans keeping majority control with a smaller edge.
Polling has been clear for weeks that Sen. Collins is trailing. Since 2020 began, now 18 polls have been conducted of this Senate race, and Gideon has led in all but the two Moore Information surveys. Overall, the incumbent has been trailing by an average slightly over four percentage points with a median of 4.5 percent, numbers barely within the polling margin of error range.
In the state, Sen. Collins is likely in similar position to President Trump. Maine is important in the presidential election, too, because it is one of two states that splits its electoral votes, and Trump needs at least one vote from this domain. In Maine, presidential candidates win two electoral votes for winning the statewide count and an additional one for each of the congressional districts they carry. Maine, a state of just over 1.3 million people, has two congressional districts.
The 1st District, or southern seat, that begins at the New Hampshire border and encompasses the populous Seacoast and Portland areas before stretching as far as the capital city of Augusta, is a heavily Democratic district.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the 1st CD with a 54-39 percent margin, which was enough to overcome President Trump winning the 2nd District, the seat that takes in the Lewiston-Auburn region, through the city of Bangor, and then the land mass all the way to Canada, with a smaller 51-41 percent count. In a two-district state, the candidate winning their district by a greater margin by definition wins the statewide tally.
To win in 2020, Sen. Collins must maximize her advantage in the 2nd District and close the margin of defeat in the 1st, something most Republican statewide candidates cannot achieve.
Historically, Sen. Collins has a strong record in the state and enjoys a solid base of support. She was first elected here in 1996, and has won with victory percentages of 49.2, 58.4, 61.3, and 67.0 percent in her four elections covering a period of 24 years. This year’s result will be the closest of her career and, if she wins, the margin will be very close.
It is obvious that the Moore Information poll is the first of many Maine Senate polls that we will see in the next few days. A week from now, the race status may become clearer, but this first glimpse is more positive for Sen. Collins than most observers would have predicted.