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Susan Collins’s decision reverberates in Maine

A demonstrator held up a sign at the entrance of Senator Susan Collins’s office.
A demonstrator held up a sign at the entrance of Senator Susan Collins’s office.Patrick Whittle/Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Grocery bag in hand, Mariusz Jankowski walked briskly through the Hannaford Supermarket parking lot Friday evening, but it wasn’t only because he was in a rush.

“I’m still boiling from what I heard,” the 61-year-old Portland resident said. Jankowski had watched hours earlier as Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, used a widely broadcast speech from the Senate floor to announce she would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, all but assuring his survival amid a vitriolic nomination process.

A Democrat, Jankowski said he had voted for Collins, a Republican, once before. But he wouldn’t a second time.

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“I e-mailed her [office] and I said that I would never vote for her again,” he said. “She covers herself by supposedly being above the fray. . . . I’m incredibly disappointed by what she said.”

Collins’s decision to back Kavanaugh, detailed in her afternoon address, sent immediate reverberations through her home state, where the debate around the nominee had consumed the attention of Mainers of all political stripes.

Maine Republican Party chairwoman Demi Kouzounas praised Collins for proving “reason and logic will prevail” over partisanship.

“Leading up to her decision today, she faced immense and aggressive pressure yet she did not crack or allow it to stray her from her process,” she said.

Liberal activists, on the other hand, said they have raised more than $2 million to go toward a potential Collins opponent in 2020.

As one of a few key votes in the confirmation battle, Collins had spent weeks saying she was undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination, fueling speculation — and protests — across the state.

Maine was the top state in the nation for television ad spending related to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

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Adding to the pressure, activists held a sit-in at her Portland office Friday afternoon, leaving behind a sign that read “Travesty, Mockery, Injustice” wedged above the door frame entering her lobby. An aide later removed it.

“Some of us told our stories, to her face, in her office, and she sat there with a concerned look on her face. And then that’s it,” said Catherine Perreault, a 46-year-old Portland resident who said she traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to push Collins to vote against Kavanaugh amid sexual assault allegations dating back to his high school and college years.

“There’s no connection between that and what happened” with her vote, said Perreault. “I feel gutted. I don’t know how she’s going to show her face in Maine.”

Collins entered Friday’s fray already under heavy scrutiny. She has cut a reputation as a supporter of abortion rights, making her decision on Kavanaugh — viewed by many as a potential deciding vote in overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion — all the more closely watched. She expressed confidence Friday in his approach toward abortion rights law, saying he believes that “honoring precedent is essential to maintaining public confidence.”

Collins has proven a pivotal vote on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act (she voted no) and on a major tax overhaul bill backed by President Trump (she agreed to it at the last minute). In 2016, she said she did not vote for Trump.

Kouzounas called Collins’s speech the “gold standard” for explaining a vote and “how a nominee should be evaluated.” And her reasoning — laid out in detail over 45 minutes on the Senate floor — confirmed what supporters say they appreciate about Collins’s approach.

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“She had a tremendous amount of pressure, but she always appears of sound mind, she’s level-headed, and she’s looking at the facts,” Emilie Spas, a 52-year-old Kennebunk resident, said outside a Biddeford Market Basket.

Spas described herself as an “open-minded,” pro-life Republican. (“I don’t like Fox [News],” she said.)

“I think [Collins] played it very wisely,” she said. “She didn’t fall to one side going into it. I think that’s what we elect people to do.”

First elected to the Senate in 1996, Collins has enjoyed continued electoral success as a moderate Republican in the state, winning with over 68 percent of the vote in her most recent reelection in 2014.

She’s voted for judicial nominees put forth by Republican presidents nearly 99 percent of the time over her Senate career, according to a Globe analysis of more than 500 of her roll call votes for Supreme Court, circuit court of appeals, district court, and other judicial appointments.

She has not said yet whether she will seek a fifth term when she is up for reelection in two years. She flirted with running for governor this year, but decided against it.

Long before Collins announced her decision, liberal activists started raising money to fund a potential opponent if she voted to approve Kavanaugh.

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“It’s a sign that she’s out of step with what is the movement of this moment,” Marie Follayttar, the codirector of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said outside Collins’s office in Portland. “We’ll be mobilizing to make sure we take back her seat. Unfortunately, Senator Collins had a moment. She chose not to take it.”

Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, said she was “heartbroken,” but as far as how Collins explains herself to voters, “that’s going to be her job.”

“But the reality is,” Clegg said, “the decisions that are made by the Supreme Court with a Justice Kavanaugh on it are going to be attached to her and her decision.”


James Pindell of Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout