After vowing not to vote for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, citing his “lack of self-restraint” and “unsuitablity for office,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has taken a decidedly more restrained approach to his reelection bid in 2020.
The Maine senator, who is facing what’s shaping up to be the toughest reelection race of her career, wouldn’t say during a recent interview with a local TV news program whether she’s voting for Trump in her state’s upcoming primary.
“Are you planning to vote in Tuesday’s primary and will you be supporting President Trump or writing in someone else as you did in 2016?” WCSH-TV anchor Pat Callaghan asked Collins during an interview on Friday.
Collins said she voted by absentee ballot ahead of Maine’s March 3 primary, but didn’t say whether she cast her ballot for Trump. The president is the only candidate listed on Maine’s Republican primary ballot this year, along with the option to write in another name.
Though she wrote an op-ed bashing Trump three months before the 2016 election, Collins said she isn’t going to “get involved in presidential politics” this time around.
“I would note that it’s on the Democratic side that there are eight candidates and my likely opponent as well as the governor and many other Democratic officials have not said who they are going to choose in what is a contested Democratic ballot,” Collins said. “I’m focused on my job and also on my own campaign and I’m just not going to get involved in presidential politics.”
Collins declined to answer the question again during an interview with CNN on Tuesday, claiming she had “already” answered it previously. (She hasn’t.)
Trump, on the other hand, has seemingly endorsed Collins in Maine’s 2020 Senate race. He tweeted in December that he “100%” agreed with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) call for voters to support Collins, and Trump’s campaign staffers in Maine have been collecting signatures to get her on the ballot. (All U.S. Senate candidates in Maine must gather 2,000 signatures from party members by March 15 to qualify for the June 9 primary.)
Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins’ campaign, did not say whether Collins voted for Trump. Instead, he noted that Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of the senator’s Democratic challengers, hasn’t announced which candidate she will support.
“There are eight Democrats on the contested presidential primary ballot here in Maine and, so far, House Speaker Sara Gideon has refused to say if she has voted or who she will support on Tuesday,” Kelley said. “After she says who she will support, get back to me.”
Gideon’s campaign said Tuesday that she voted for former Vice President Joe Biden in the state’s Democratic presidential primary. But Kelley did not respond to a request for comment when HuffPost followed up with this information.
It’s possible that Collins has determined that endorsing Trump would be a political misstep for her reelection in Maine, where the president’s disapproval rating climbed from 40% in January 2017 to 52% in January 2020, according to Morning Consult.
Collins, a four-term incumbent who has handily won reelection each time, has several Democratic and independent challengers this election cycle. Her voting record in recent years has drawn outrage from many of her left-leaning constituents.
Though Collins has voted in line with Trump less than most of her Republican colleagues ― about 67% of the time ― she has cast key votes in favor of some of his most significant measures, calling into question her position as a so-called moderate.
For instance, she voted to confirm many of Trump’s judicial nominees who have spoken out against reproductive rights. She also voted in favor of Trump’s tax bill in 2017, voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual misconduct against him, and voted against impeaching Trump during the Senate trial.
“I believe that the president has learned from this case,” Collins told CBS News while defending her vote to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment stemming from his dealings with Ukraine. “The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”
She was lambasted over the claim and later walked back her remarks, calling them merely “aspirational.”
Collins is currently running uncontested for the Republican nomination. At least five Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination: Gideon, former Maine gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse, attorney Bre Kidman and travel agent Michael Bunker.
Independent candidates Tiffany Bond, Danielle VanHelsing, Linda Wooten and Maine Green Independent Party candidate Lisa Savage are also vying for Collins’ seat.
Watch Collins’ full interview with WCSH-TV below. Her comments about voting in the primary begin around the 5-minute mark.