Almost immediately after US Senator Susan Collins of Maine announced in a high-profile speech that she would join her Republican colleagues in voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to join the US Supreme Court, the conversation in her home state turned to whether the four-term senator could be vulnerable for reelection in two years and who could credibly challenge her.
Collins, after all, is something of a local political legend. She has been essentially untouchable politically for over a decade, winning her last two reelections by 2-to-1 margins. But this time there is a reason for credible candidates to consider the challenge. A crowdsourcing effort has already amassed $3.6 million for whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee to challenge Collins in 2020. For context, Collins spent $5.2 million in her 2014 reelection campaign.
The potential challengers are almost all women, including a high-profile pair who have vacation homes in the state but are both residents of New York City.
Former Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards found her name floated by a former Obama official on social media, but an aide to Richards tamped down the talk she might be interested.
The situation is different when it comes to former Obama National Security Council chief Susan Rice, who has family roots in Portland and has a home in the state. When another former Obama official asked who would be interested in challenging Collins, Rice responded on Twitter, “Me.” It was a tweet that has since been “favorited” 169,000 times.
Rice appeared to walk back the comment after it created significant buzz in national political circles, but a day later, during an appearance at The New Yorker Festival, she said, “My bottom line is that I’m going to give it due consideration, after the midterms. I’ll take a look.”
On CNN Sunday morning, Collins dismissed Rice as a potential opponent by pointing out Rice would have to move to do it.
“She doesn’t live in the state, in Maine, everybody knows that,” Collins said.
The carpetbagging charge could be problematic, even in a Democratic primary. Troy Jackson, a Democratic National Committee member and Maine state senator, told the Globe he thinks the person who takes on Collins “should be from Maine and understand the struggles of working-class Maine families.”
“It’s fine and all to have a house here, but that isn’t really going to resonate with voters in a way that will topple Collins,” Jackson said.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of longtime Maine politicians who appear to be taking a serious look at challenging Collins, which itself is notable.
Chellie Pingree, the state’s lone Democratic member of Congress, said in a statement she is focused on reelection in a month but isn’t closing the door on challenging a Collins a second time. (Collins beat Pingree by 17 points in 2002.)
Should Pingree take a pass, her daughter, Hannah, a former Maine House speaker, is also considered a rising star who could give it a go.
The person who appears to be most interested so far is the current Maine House speaker, Sara Gideon. While she lacks significant statewide name recognition, she said she will seriously consider running for the position.
Others also floating their names are Emily Cain, a two-time Democratic congressional nominee who now works for EMILY’s List in Washington, and Adam Cote, who lost the Democratic primary for governor earlier this year.
But before the conversation continues further, Mainers will have to head to the polls to decide tight contests for governor, Congress, and the state Legislature.
If Democrats lose the governor’s race, it will mean they have not won a statewide office since 2006. At that point, the argument could be a little stronger for a newcomer in 2020.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics.