U.S. Sen. Susan Collins scored an easy victory Tuesday night in her bid for a third consecutive term in the U.S. Senate.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m. Collins, a Caribou native and Bangor resident, was ahead of her challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen of Portland, 60.3 percent to 39.7 percent, according to unofficial returns compiled by the Bangor Daily News.

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Collins, calling her campaign a “great victory,” said her win shows that Mainers recognize the value of her record in Congress despite attempts to distort it.

“The results show the people of Maine knew that I worked very hard for them,” Collins said by phone from Portland. “The message I heard was that they were tired of excessive partisanship.”

She said Allen had put up a strong fight in trying to win her seat.

“Tom was a very formidable opponent,” Collins said. “He was the strongest opponent that I could have had. He was encouraged to run by national Democratic leaders.”

Collins called Sen. Barack Obama’s White House win “an impressive one” and said that, though she was rooting for McCain, she looked forward to working with the Obama administration.

The immediate challenges the new Congress will face, Collins said, is addressing the continuing economic crisis and the need for a new energy bill.

“Those are the two priorities for me,” she said.

Allen said he had called Collins at about 10 p.m. to concede the race.

“I congratulated her on her victory,” Allen said. “She’s obviously a very strong opponent. She had high approval ratings.”

He said he felt good about the campaign and the effort his campaign made.

“I’m really proud of what we did,” he said. “We put the state in play.”

Allen said that, though he may have fallen short in his Senate bid, he feels the country won Tuesday night by electing Obama president and by voting for a wider Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

“This is a great night for the American people,” Allen said. “The challenge for me was not to make this [race] about Tom Allen and Susan Collins, but about the policies that affect the people of Maine. The policies and positions I’ve been fighting for are now majority positions.”

When asked about his immediate plans, Allen responded with one word.

“Rest,” he said. “I expect to be doing letters of recommendation for my staff. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”

During the campaign, Allen tried to paint Collins as an ally of the president and a supporter of his unpopular policies, but Collins responded by drawing attention to bipartisan legislation she has written and to issues on which she differed with Bush.

Collins also referred to statistics that suggested Allen was more partisan, had passed fewer bills, and had missed more votes than she had. Allen stuck by his voting record, saying that had participated in more votes than Collins, because the U.S. House routinely has more votes than the Senate, and that he participated in 98 percent of the votes held in the House.

The election set a new record for fundraising for a Maine election. Allen and Collins raised roughly $13 million between them, exceeding the previous mark by $5 million.

The previous record of $8 million was set in 2002, when Collins was re-elected over challenger Chellie Pingree, who on Tuesday won the seat Allen decided to vacate in order to challenge Collins.

The unprecedented campaign spending bankrolled a flood of television ads, which have been supplemented by spots financed by third-party groups.

The race was viewed as a test of whether moderate Republicans have a future in the Northeast, where Collins and fellow Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe are among the last survivors of the breed. Democrats were buoyed by the defeat two years ago of Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, which demonstrated that even a personally popular Republican is at risk in New England, and hoped for a similar outcome in Maine.

Despite the continued unpopularity of President Bush, Collins’ theorized vulnerability never panned out as the election drew closer. Several polls taken over the past month indicated Collins had a double-digit lead over Allen, from 12 percentage points to as many as 20.

During her re-election campaign, Collins traveled in a bus around the state and over the final few days made several appearances in eastern Maine. She traveled to Washington County on Saturday, stopping in Calais, Machias and other towns, and on Monday traveled to Aroostook County to make campaign appearances in the St. John River Valley. She started Tuesday in Caribou and then traveled south, stopping in Bangor and then Auburn on her way to Portland for her election night celebration.

Allen also kept a frenetic schedule in the campaign’s closing days. On Monday, he started in Biddeford and then traveled to Bangor, making several appearances along the way. On Tuesday, he started early in Bangor and then made appearances in Waterville, Augusta, Lewiston and Auburn before making several stops in Cumberland and York counties. Allen’s campaign encamped Tuesday night at the Wyndham Hotel in South Portland to watch and wait as the election results rolled in.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....