Protesters march at a rally outside Sen. Susan Collins' office in Portland on Friday afternoon. Protesters were urging the senator to vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

As the Senate delayed a confirmation vote in order to give the FBI time to investigate sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, any Mainers wanting to sway Sen. Susan Collins by phone are likely to hear a busy signal.

Phone lines at all six of the Republican senator’s Maine offices were busy Friday morning, constituents reported. Others had a hard time getting through Thursday, during the nine hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.

“We have had a heavy call volume to our six offices in Maine and to our D.C. office over the past three weeks. We encourage any Mainers who receive a busy signal to please try again,” Annie Clark, Collins’ communications director, said just before 11 a.m.

Collins’ Senate website also crashed Friday morning, but “it is now back up and running,” Clark said.

The pressure on Collins, who has carefully avoided saying whether she will vote to confirm Kavanaugh in the weeks preceding Friday’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote, continued to escalate Friday before the early afternoon committee vote. But when Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake announced Friday that he would only vote to confirm Kavanaugh on the floor of the Senate if its leaders delayed floor votes to allow an FBI investigation, it removed a looming deadline for Collins to make a decision.

It also gave people hoping to influence her vote more time to try to contact her.

Calling and emailing weren’t the only way people were trying to reach Collins on Friday. Late Friday morning before the committee vote, a group of about 200 protesters gathered in front of Collins’ Portland office carrying signs and chanting, “We will remember in November,” before stopping for a moment of silence to honor victims of sexual assault.

“There’s nothing but a no vote that could satisfy me,” said Erin Johnson, a Bowdoin College professor of art who held a sign reading, “Kava-nope.”

Pavica Kneedler, who has called Collins’ office to urge a vote against Kavanaugh, drove Friday morning from Ipswich, Massachusetts, to join the protest.

“An investigation is all I’m asking, like they did for Anita Hill,” Kneedler said. “I feel like they can’t reach a decision without the facts.”

Kavanaugh’s opponents — who fear his appointment to the Supreme Court could overturn abortion rights — have targeted Collins and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, as the Republican senators who could sink Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Independent Maine Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, previously announced that he would vote against Kavanaugh.

Collins reportedly continued to tell media Friday morning that she had not decided how she would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Members of a group of Maine sexual assault survivors who traveled to Washington, D.C., met with Collins at noon Friday. After that meeting, they said that the senator had been empathetic, but did not indicate how she would vote.

BDN writer Troy Bennett contributed to this report.

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