State of Maine: As the stakes go higher, the candidates go low 

The U.S. senators representing the state of Maine have been a distinguished bunch. Many have had outsized impact given the relative lack of political influence of their home state. Margaret Chase Smith was perhaps the most emblematic with her “Declaration of Conscience,” but through the last decades Maine has been served by senators nationally recognized for their talent and integrity. 

In our 200 years of statehood, just 42 individuals have held Maine’s two seats. Mainers have generally been pleased with their elected choices, two of whom served for 30 years. Hannibal Hamlin served three separate times for a total of 25 years, once as a Democrat and twice as a Republican. Two of those times he resigned, once to become governor and once to become vice-president. 

Those who have served in more recent memory represent a political bloodline that any Mainer can recite without a second thought. SensMuskie, Mitchell, Cohen and Snowe, Collins and King. Two Democrats, three Republicans and an Independent. All won support across party lines or, in King’s case, with no party at all. Prior to their service in the Senate, Mitchell worked for Muskie and Collins worked for Cohen. 

Sens. Margaret Chase Smith and Susan Collins rank third and fifth respectively as the Maine senators with the longest record of Senate service. Sens. Cohen and Collins rank second and third of those youngest when initially elected. Current Sen. Angus King has the distinction of being the second oldest Maine senator ever. (Sorry, Angus.) SenSmith was third oldest. 

Sen. Muskie served as U.S. Secretary of State. SenMitchell was Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. Republican Sen. Cohen served as Secretary of Defense in the Democratic Clinton administration. Mitchell, Cohen and Snowe all cited extreme partisanship leading to the inability to get anything done when they retired from Senate service. 

For the most part, re-election for these individuals has been a cakewalk. Not this year. In an election rife with partisanship and bitter rancor, Susan Collins is in an epic battle to retain her seat. Given the possibility that the U.S. Senate could switch from Republican control to Democratic, the stakes for seats considered in play could not be higher. One of them is Maine’s. 

Democrats, tantalized with the possibility of taking both the White House and the U.S. Senate, are pulling out all the stops with the full backing of the national party. That means money. Big money. Enough money to fill a substantial part of the $422 million COVID hole in the state budget (per Maine’s Revenue Forecasting Committee). On a single election. 

Democrats have nominated two-term Speaker of the Maine House, Sara Gideon, to run against incumbent Susan Collins. Once party leaders decided on their candidate, way before the primary election, they were all in, leaving the others in the primary as also-rans.  

Gideon is articulate, hard-working and has some grasp of the state as a whole thanks to her service as Speaker. Collins is experienced, diligent, knows every inch of the state and everyone in it and has achieved a level of seniority in Washington that gets results for Maine. They have plenty of legitimate policy differences so who would have thought this battle would all come down to – Husbandgate 

Collins supporters were quick to make much of the fact that the law firm where Gideon’s husband works had applied for and received funds through the pandemic-driven Payroll Protection Program. No illegality was alleged; it’s just that Gideon had spoken out against money going to businesses that were larger and better-connected than those for whom the funds were primarily intended. Then a new line of attack opened regarding a past real estate venture of Mr. Gideon’s.  

After listening to what the Gideon campaign calls false claims for just so long, her team fired back—at Collins’ husband. The ads claim Sen. Collins supported policies favorable to her spouse, a lobbyist and consultant. Never mind that Collins was nothing like the deciding vote on any of them. It’s tit for tat. 

Come on, you two. This is beneath you. Sure, the ads may be coming from your supporters and not your campaign committees, but surely you could at least denounce them. The whole dustup smacks of I Love Lucy in which the men are the foil to two lovable knuckleheads. Can you not find a more elevated set of issues on which to debate your candidacies than the respective merits of your husbands? 

If you find two masked men sitting in a dim corner of a rural bar commiserating over a beverage, it could be Tom and Ben, our Senate candidates’ spouses. Election be damned, they are enduring a kind of misery that only the two of them can understand. Buy them a roundThey’ve earned it. 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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