FRYEBURG, Maine – Susan Collins has built a brand as a moderate senator who is not afraid to change her party. But the Republican from Maine is now facing her even tougher challenge as she prepares to run for a fifth term in a blue state – the potential impeachment of a president she didn't vote for.
While the President of the Maine Republican Party dismissed the scandal in Ukraine as "another witch hunt", Collins called on Trump's public request to investigate.former vice president Joe Biden "completely inappropriate." But Collins said he cannot position himself on impeachment because he may be asked to serve as a juror during a possible judgment in the Senate.
"It is inappropriate for me to reach conclusions on evidence or comment on the House proceedings"she said recently.
Collins, who is one of the Democrats' top targets in 2020 when trying to turn over the GOP-controlled Senate, runs the risk of irritating the Republican base by criticizing Trump and not defending him from the impeachment inquiry.
"She needs not to be a traitor to her own party," said Jenny Foster, wearing a sweatshirt. "Trump 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again," he said on Saturday outside a stable in Fryeburg.
And Trump on Saturday remembered what might happen to Republican senators who get out of line when he tweeted that Utah Senator Mitt Romney is a "donkey".
Currently, Collins's main opponent is Sara Gideon, a speaker at the Maine House, and the few polls so far show Collins miles ahead of his likely Democratic rival. Collins is one of the few Republican Senators who are running for reelection next year who are battling impeachment, including Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Iowa Joni Ernst, who have been criticized in a recent City Hall over the issue.
At Saturday's large Fryeburg fair, politicians pressed the meat between the prize-winning animals and the halfway rides on a sunny autumn day, although Collins was not among them.
There was a cardboard cutout of the president giving a thumbs up and Trump T-shirts for sale at the Republican Party booth, but Collins's only sign was almost obscure.
Mike Hoyle, who wore a Trump 2020 hat, said he was disappointed by the senator's "pamby pamby, safe and political response" about impeachment.
"I'm in doubt about Susan Collins," added Hoyle, who voted for Collins in 2014. "Many Republicans think she's not really Republican."
Trump's position in Maine has declined since he was elected, polls showand among all voters, he is not particularly popular in the state.
Her supporters say her position is now similar to the deliberate approach she took in 1999, when Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and faced removal by the Senate.
Collins the Washington post He wrote at the time, he was "one of the few senators who didn't really make up their minds" and one of the few who paid attention to proceedings during the Senate trial, "while other senators are staring at the ceiling at each other."
Finally, she sided with the Democrats and voted for Clinton's acquittal, infuriating some Republicans.
But this time, in a state that has become more polarized, some sides say that Collins's approach no longer interrupts it.
"Collins is clinging to a party that no longer exists," said progressive activist Marie Follayttar.
Collins won the elections covering both parts of Maine, which are reflected in its two congressional districts: the most liberal and rich coast, which votes like the rest of New England, and its poorest and most conservative interior, which votes as rural areas in other parts of the country.
But on the fence is an increasingly difficult position to maintain and recent research shows its very high favorability ratings. fell back to earth – and a possible vote on Trump's removal will force Collins to choose a side.
"The first and second congressional districts are so divided and culturally distinct from each other, sometimes it's almost like two different states," said Eric Brakey, a former Republican senator from the second congressional district. "It's hard to be in Susan Collins's position trying to overcome this division. It will be one of the hardest races she's ever had."
Collins began the Trump era winning applause from Democrats and Republicans for writing an article before the 2016 elections, stating that she would not vote for Trump. She then challenged the new president in her first major legislative effort when she voted against the repeal of the Affordable Assistance Act.
"I think Susan Collins was murdered in Maine," said former Republican Party Governor Paul LePage. said a conservative radio host at the time. "I think her decision to go against the Maine Republicans really cooked her goose."
But Collins worked to repair her position at the Republican base, convincing some that she is the only Republican she can win statewide in Maine today. Even LePage, who says he is running for governor again in 2022, recently announced his support for her.
Collins's latest votes in favor of Trump's tax cuts and to confirm Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh captivated her with conservatives from as far away as California, where she spent part of last week raising money to build her own. will and be stronger. hailed as the "confirmation hero Kavanaugh".
But Collins's vote for Kavanaugh also led some anti-Trump Democrats and independents who tolerated Collins to overstep his breaking point, and bumper stickers that oppose her are now ubiquitous in the most liberal areas of the state.
"At the moment, she's trying to understand this image as moderate," said Kelli Whitlock Burton, one of the leaders of the progressive Suit Up Maine group.
While acknowledging that some Democrats and independents are keeping up with Collins, Whitlock Burton said he didn't think even a vote to convict Trump would win back left voters that the senator had already lost. "I don't know if that would be enough to neutralize her vote on tax law, the vote of the judges," said Whitlock Burton.
Outside impeachment groups have begun running TV ads targeting Collins and several other vulnerable Republicans on the issue.
"There is no more important job for US senators than defending the constitution," said Nathaly Arriola, executive director of Need to Impeach, which is spending $ 3 million on ads, although Democratic groups focused mainly on Senate races. have not yet pressured the press. impeachment issue.
Still, while right and left activists see impeachment as a black and white issue, others appreciate Collins's prudence.
"I think there is danger for Republicans in general," said Kevin Raye, former Republican Senate chairman of the Maine State Senate. "But if there is any political figure who has any isolation against it, it's Senator Collins. Because she has only repeatedly shown that she is willing to do the right thing, regardless of what supporters say."
He added, "People are disgusted with politics. They are disgusted that Republicans and Democrats can't sit in the same room. We need more Susan Collins, not less."