No Democrat declaratively said that they would take on Collins, who has served since 1997, but a host of names were almost immediately on the lips of operatives in the state and nationally, now eager to find a serious challenger in a state where partisan alignments vary wildly from district to district.
Sara Gideon, the current speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives, intimated in a Facebook statement that she will consider taking on Collins.
“Senator Collins has chosen to vote against the interests of us all,” she wrote. “Maine deserves a champion in the US Senate. My focus right now is expanding our House majority here in Maine and electing Janet Mills as our next governor, but after November I will be seriously considering how I can elevate the voices of people who deserve and demand to be heard and represented in Washington, DC.”
Gideon did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast, but one Democratic operative working in the state mentioned her among a list of names that will likely be discussed in the near future and beyond.
That list of potential Democratic challengers also includes Rep. Chellie Pingree, who has represented Maine’s 1st congressional district since 2009. Pingree is popular in her southern coastal district—she won re-election in 2014 by more than 30 points—which encompasses the cities of Portland, Augusta, and Brunswick, as well as the well-heeled summer beach colonies of Kennebunk, Scarborough, and Ogunquit. That geography potentially adds further financial padding to the $2 million in CrowdPAC loot already promised to Collins’ eventual challenger.
The potential challenger has actually faced off with Collins in the past.
Pingree, who parlayed a Maine-based knitting empire into a successful political career, is a former majority leader of the Maine Senate who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Collins in 2002. Collins defeated Pingree by 16 points. Pingree’s congressional re-election campaign provided The Daily Beast with a statement indicating Pingree was first focused on her current race.
“Like the thousands of Mainers who raised their voices in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, I’m extremely disappointed by the Senate’s vote to advance his lifetime appointment," Pingree said. "I think his record and bias on any number of issues—women’s reproductive rights, gun violence, and presidential power among them—makes him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court and to ram through his nomination after witnessing Dr. Ford’s credible testimony represents politics at its worst. As for the future, right now I am focused on serving the people of Maine’s first district and hope to gain their support again on November 6th.”
Pingree’s daughter, Hannah, who previously served as the Maine Speaker of the House, and Lucas St. Clair, the son of the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, were also mentioned as potential challengers.
St. Clair lost to Jared Golden earlier this year in Maine’s 2nd congressional district Democratic primary, but this operative remarked that he could attain more progressive support statewide than in his own conservative-leaning district.
The Maine Democratic Party, certainly eager to field a challenger over the next two years, criticized Collins in a statement following her announcement. The party contrasted the senator’s approach with that of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who earlier Friday said she could not support Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“Democrats and the many of the women members of the Senate—including Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski—did not shrink from this moment as Senator Collins has, and we thank them for standing up against this nomination,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement. “Based on the credible allegations he faces and his recent testimony, it’s become clear that he does not possess the integrity or character to be appointed to a lifetime position as a Justice on our highest court. It’s a shame Senator Collins can’t recognize that.”
The progressive ire was so great that even Susan Rice, President Obama’s former national security advisor, toyed with the idea of running against Collins.
“I’m not making any announcements. Like so many Americans, I am deeply disappointed in Senator Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh. Maine and America deserve better.”
Whoever does step into the fray could inherit over $2 million raised by a crowdfunding effort to pledge finances to any candidate challenging Collins because of her Kavanaugh vote. The site briefly crashed following Collins’ speech.