Early poll shows Maine voters are unsettled

Democrats and progressives in Maine are ready for 2020. They are so ready.

They’re so ready, in fact, that they might be having a little trouble remembering that it’s just April of 2019.

When pollsters try to gauge support for candidates, sometimes they ask, “if the election were held today, who would you support?”

The answer Democrats are jumping to right away: “Can the election be today? We want to vote. Now.”

Bolstered by a strong performance in Maine and nationally during the 2018 mid-term election, Democrats want to keep the momentum going, which may be what’s causing them to look at their watch for 2020 instead of their calendar.

That and the constant barrage of lunacy from the White House have set the stage for hand wringing of the highest order, making it feel much later in the process than it actually is.

Sen. Susan Collins leaves the U.S. Capitol building on March 14, as the Senate rejects President Donald Trump’s emergency border declaration. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The urgency extends beyond a desire to defeat President Donald Trump. It also extends to the hope that US Sen. Susan Collins might finally be vulnerable.

Republicans hold the majority in the US Senate, and the electoral map for 2020 shows that there are few places where Democrats have much hope of picking up a seat.

Maine looks to be one of those targets.

During the mid-term elections in 2018, the Maine voters elected a Democratic governor and strong majorities in the state House and Senate. They helped Democrat Jared Golden defeat Republican Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and easily returned Democrat Chellie Pingree to Congress from the 1st Congressional District.

So far, no top-tier candidate has announced for the race against Collins, though Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon has been signaling her intentions and is expected to run.

As evidence of the urge to jump ahead to next year, a poll last month from Portland-based Pan Atlantic Research tested Gideon in a head-to-head match up against Collins.

The poll had good news for both.

For Collins, the poll showed that more than 60 percent of Mainers view her favorable and a majority would vote for her re-election. Most incumbents of either party would kill to have those types of numbers.

But there was also some softness in support that should be noted. According to the poll, about 25 percent of voters said they would definitely support her for re-election, while 27 percent said they definitely would not.

In the head-to-head between Collins and Gideon, Collins had the support of 51 percent of the vote while Gideon had 29 percent.

There’s no question the numbers show Gideon would have work to do, but there’s also good news for her.

First off, Gideon has not yet declared for the race. She’s clocking in at nearly 30 percent in a hypothetical match up against the much better known Collins. Despite serving in the high-profile role of speaker of the House, most voters don’t know much about Gideon. She can change that.

Secondly, Gideon is starting essentially in the same spot where now state Senator and then-US Senate candidate Shenna Bellows finished her unsuccessful bid against Collins in 2014. Bellows captured 31 percent of the vote after a spirited underdog race. Gideon has a head start there.

Third, the poll shows that Maine is rejecting Trump, who will also be on the ballot. Nearly 60 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of the president, 55 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing and 53 percent said that they would definitely not vote for him next year.

That’s a terrible undertow that Collins will have to overcome.

Finally: The survey appears to oversample Republicans and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and under-sampled women. All of which could impact the overall numbers.

If it looks to be at all competitive, we can expect an unprecedented amount of money spent in the US Senate race in 2020. Based on what happened in the 2nd District last year and in a Montana US Senate race, the number could exceed $60 million between direct candidate spending and independent expenditures.

To knock off Collins will take a candidate running a strong campaign, every penny of that spending and the gravitational pull of a sinking Trump.

The 2020 election is forever away. But the Pan Atlantic poll shouldn’t freak Democrats out. Instead, it should inspire them to get busy. Even in her current position, there are small cracks showing in Collins electoral armor.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.