POLITICS

Susan Collins Is Desperate To Avoid Saying Whether She Backs Trump's Reelection

It's possible the Maine Republican has decided endorsing the president would be a poison pill for her own reelection bid.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) seems awfully desperate to avoid saying whether she’ll vote for President Donald Trump in November.

That shouldn’t be too surprising given that she’s facing the toughest reelection bid of her career in a state that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden appears poised to win.

But Collins’ reasoning for avoiding questions about whether she backs the president’s push for four more years in the White House doesn’t add up.

She attempted to explain her silence in an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, stating she doesn’t campaign against her Senate colleagues. (Before serving as President Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden represented Delaware as a senator for more than three decades.)

She told the Times she knows Biden “very well” and that campaigning against him would essentially violate her own rule. And yet, she campaigned against fellow senators in their quest for the presidency in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Collins was one of the first senators to endorse George W. Bush in 2000, going against the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Al Gore and then-Sen. Joe Lieberman. She backed Bush again four years later as he fought off Democratic challenges from two of her Senate colleagues: John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.

In 2008, when she was up for reelection, Collins co-chaired John McCain’s presidential campaign in Maine against Obama and Biden, both of whom were Democratic senators at the time. She defended the move later that year, saying it’s “typical for the leading officeholders to chair the campaign of whichever member of your party is running for president.”

But her role in McCain’s campaign undermines a claim she made last week in which she stated that she doesn’t involve herself in presidential politics when when she’s up for reelection.

“I am concentrating on my own campaign,” Collins told reporters Wednesday when asked once again whether she supports Trump’s reelection campaign.

Days later, Biden endorsed her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, and called on voters in the state to help him “restore the soul of America” by ending Trump’s presidency. Gideon said in early March that she voted for Biden in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

Collins has refused to say whether she voted for Trump in Maine’s Republican primary, telling a local TV station that she doesn’t want to “get involved in presidential politics.” Trump was the only candidate listed on that ballot, along with the option to write in another name.

Her refusal to weigh in on the race marked a clear contrast from her position in 2016, when she wrote an op-ed denouncing then-Republican nominee Trump and his “unsuitability for office” three months before the election.

Pressed on Wednesday to explain her decision to speak out against Trump then but remain silent this time around, Collins said she wasn’t running for reelection in 2016.

“I didn’t have my own race to worry about at that point,” she added.

A spokesperson for Collins’ campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

When asked Tuesday about co-chairing McCain’s campaign in 2008 but opting not to endorse Trump this year, Collins told CNN that she’s facing a “difficult race” against Gideon.

“In addition, I have known John McCain since the 1970s,” she said. “We were very close friends.”

Though the explanations she’s offered for deflecting feel shaky, her likely reason for doing so seems clearer. It’s possible she’s made the political calculation that the risks of endorsing Trump outweigh any possible benefits for her reelection campaign.

A Public Policy Polling survey conducted earlier this month found Biden with a solid 11-point lead over Trump among Maine voters. Throwing her support behind Trump would likely further enrage constituencies that have become less and less enamored with Collins in recent years.

While Collins has positioned herself as a self-described “pro-choice” moderate, her voting record suggests otherwise. Her critical support for Trump’s tax bill, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment, and acquitting the president during his impeachment trial have mobilized Democratic and independent voters in Maine against her. 

Winning the Maine seat in November is key for a Democratic majority in the Senate, making the race one of the most closely watched this year.

Gideon has amassed a hefty war chest that includes over $23 million in campaign donations. After winning the Democratic primary last week, she inherited nearly $4 million that was raised for whoever became Collins’ Democratic opponent in the race.

Trump appeared to endorse Collins in December, tweeting that he agrees “100%” with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s assessment that her reelection is crucial for maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate. 

When asked Wednesday if being tethered to Trump would cost her in November, Collins danced around the question.

“You know, in parts of this state, President Trump is very popular,” she said. “In parts of this state, he’s very unpopular. But I am running my own race.”

CORRECTION: This article initially stated that a poll showing Biden’s popularity was conducted by Morning Consult. It was conducted by Public Policy Polling.