House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, arrives in the chamber after being re-elected to her leadership post in December 2018. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Good morning from Augusta. The field of potential opponents to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins hasn’t expanded much since her 2018 vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that looks to have rearranged the Republican’s base of support along party lines.

The 2020 election will bring another difficult Senate map for Democrats. It means that the swing state of Maine — even though Collins won a fourth term with 68 percent of votes in 2014 — is virtually guaranteed to see an unprecedented amount of national attention and money regardless of whether the incumbent runs again.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, could be Collins’ likeliest opponent at the moment, though other high-profile Democrats aren’t ruling out the race and a private-sector candidate could emerge from Gideon’s hometown. Here’s our relatively small list so far.

Gideon has had high-level conversations about the race that others won’t affirm now, but her path to the nomination isn’t clear. The second-term House speaker capitalized on Democratic anger over Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh, who had been accused of sexual assault as a teenager, and announced immediately that she was considering a run in 2020.

Gideon said she has spoken about the race with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and EMILY’s List, a group that helps elect pro-abortion rights women.

Gideon said a run against Collins would be a “big task” and she hasn’t set a deadline on a decision to run, but that a top-tier Senate race would likely have to begin in the first half of 2019.

“Maine is one of their top three races, probably, in the country,” Gideon said of Senate Democrats on Thursday. “So, they’re very serious about it.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District, who lost to Collins in 2002, has waited in the past to remove her name from consideration in statewide races, and her situation may need to be ironed out before Gideon jumps in. Jesse Connolly, Pingree’s chief of staff, said she’s concerned with the federal shutdown and 2020 is “the furthest thing on her mind right now.”

Her daughter, Hannah Pingree, a former House speaker who was picked Thursday to run Gov. Janet Mills’ policy office, said she hasn’t “counted out that opportunity in 2020,” but she’s focused on in-state work now. State Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, Collins’ 2014 opponent, said she is “focused on the state Senate.”

There are other wild cards: Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has a home in Lincolnville, and Emily Cain, a two-time candidate in Maine’s 2nd District and the executive director of EMILY’s List, floated their names after the Kavanaugh vote, but they didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.

Milbridge doctor Cathleen London is the only one to declare a run against Collins so far, but she’s seen as a minor candidate and was r eprimanded by medical regulators last year.

Another private-sector figure, Daniel Kleban of Freeport, the co-owner of Maine Beer Company who is active in the state’s environmental community, could join the race. He said he could bring “a unique set of values and skills” to the race as someone who has grown a business.

Collins seems to be seen as a more typical Republican politician now than in the past, but she is still in a strong position. Democrats have organized against Collins more than ever during the past year, with a crowdfunded $3.8 million awaiting her opponent — if she runs. Collins told Politico recently she’s preparing to run for a fifth term, but will decide by year’s end.

It has at times been hard to know whether the noise equates to real vulnerability, but things have changed. Collins’ approval as measured by Morning Consult dropped from 61 percent in 2017’s last quarter to 53 percent over the same period in 2018. Between the third and fourth quarter of last year, she saw a 46-point jump in Republican approval and a corresponding dip among more liberal voters, though her approval rating was unchanged overall.

It’s clear that Collins’ days of winning elections with support from lots of Democrats are likely done and she is, at the moment, less widely popular than in the past. However, she is still in a strong position for a Republican politician nationally and in Maine and her potential opponents are largely untested statewide.

A part of history

A member of Congress from Maine helped make history Thursday on the House floor. As Chellie Pingree took the House chair during routine Thursday morning session activities, there were two women on the floor managing the rule, the clerk at the rostrum was a woman and so was the parliamentarian. This all-female fleet was historic, according to committee staff. Expect more firsts like this throughout the 116th Congress, where an unprecedented 131 women were elected to the House and Senate in November.

Today in A-town

As is often the case on a Friday, today’s legislative calendar is light. The House and Senate will not convene again until Tuesday. The only committee scheduled to meet is the Government Oversight Committee, the watchdog panel that includes an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Click here to tune in to their meeting, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

Also on the docket today is training on implicit bias.

Reading list

— A former Maine legislative leader will head the governor’s rebranded policy office. Hannah Pingree was named Thursday to run the agency that Mills wants to turn into the Office of Innovation and the Future, pending legislative approval. It marks a long-awaited return to politics for Pingree, 42, of North Haven, who was House speaker from 2008 to 2010. The new office will likely be a hybrid of the State Planning Office started by former Gov. Kenneth Curtis in the 1960s and the Office of Policy and Management that began under former Gov. Paul LePage in 2012. Pingree will start work immediately and begin hiring staff.

— Republicans picked a political newcomer as their candidate for a special House election. Party members in House District 124, which includes parts of Bangor and Orono, selected Thomas White, 24, of Bangor as their candidate in the March 12 special election to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Aaron Frey when lawmakers elected him to be Maine’s attorney general. White, who has not previously run for office, will oppose Democrat Joe Perry, a former legislator. Today is the deadline for unenrolled candidates to submit nomination papers to gain a spot on the ballot.

— The Maine Republican Party is pressing the state’s only Republican in Congress to support the president’s border wall demands. Maine Public reports that the GOP State Committee, which on Saturday re-elected Demi Kouzounas as state party chair and installed Nick Isgro as vice chair, sent a letter to Collins on Wednesday that urges her “in the strongest possible terms” to vote to pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. President Donald Trump’s steadfast insistence that Congress approve border wall funding has contributed to a stalemate with congressional Democrats, resulting in the longest federal government shutdown in history. As recently as Wednesday, Collins seemed to be looking for a compromise to at least temporarily end the shutdown. “We need to come together in good faith, reopen government for a limited period of time, at least, and negotiate a package that will strengthen security on our borders,” she said.

‘Something particular, and real’

Mortality looms large for me these days. A close high school friend who went on to a distinguished career in the Marine Corps died last week. Parents of two dear friends — one in Maine and one in England — died last Saturday. Then came word that poet Mary Oliver, so inspirational to my daughter that she has a line of her poetry tattooed on her arm, died Thursday.

My sister, the medical director at a hospice program, told me to expect early January deaths because people who know they are going to die put great effort into making it through the winter holidays. As we tried to console each other after sitting with our father as he made his painful departure from life two days after Christmas, she also said, “People come into the world hard and they go out hard.”

I don’t know if those words were hers or if she borrowed them during our time of need. But they helped.

Here are some other borrowed words — from Oliver — that help put in perspective the fresh pain that those of us left behind feel when a life well lived ends:

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up having simply visited the world.

And here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Programming note

Because Monday is a holiday to honor the late Martin Luther King Jr., we will not publish Daily Brief. We will return on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...