Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to reporters as she arrives at the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington earlier this month. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

Good morning from Augusta. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and a Democratic opponent to be named later are both sitting on healthy war chests going into a 2020 campaign that is shaping up to be potentially the most expensive political race in Maine history.

The Republican had $2.6 million left on hand for her fourth re-election campaign as of 2018’s end, a historic total for someone who has said she won’t even commit to running until the end of the year, though that seems like mostly a formality and most observers expect a run.

No Maine senator has ever entered an election cycle with this much money, though the Democrat who will run against her has a larger sum waiting. The campaign finance world has changed dramatically since Collins’ first U.S. Senate run in 1996, but she has remained a solid fundraiser who hasn’t had a close race since that first one.

No U.S. Senate candidate in Maine raised $2.9 million — the overall sum that Collins raised for re-election as of the end of last year — over the course of an entire campaign until the Republican senator’s 2002 campaign against Democrat Chellie Pingree, now a congresswoman from the 1st District.

Collins raised $1.8 million during the last quarter of 2018 alone, with $887,000 of that coming from large individual donors. Of that money, just under $19,000 came from Maine. Another $622,000 came in unitemized contributions from people giving $200 or less and $277,000 from political action committees or candidate committees.

However, it’s looking Collins may need every bit of this money, since liberals have mobilized against the Republican senator in an unprecedented fashion in the lead-up to and after her vote last year for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh with a crowdfunded $3.8 million awaiting her eventual Democratic challenger. Collins raised $280,000 alone in the week after she vocalized support for Kavanaugh.

For now, it looks like Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, although lots of big-name Democrats aren’t ruling out a run. They include Pingree, her daughter, Hannah Pingree, the head of Gov. Janet Mills’ policy office and Emily Cain, a two-time congressional candidate and executive director of EMILY’s List. Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who owns a house in Maine, has also flirted with a run.

This money is only part of the picture and Maine is one of the few competitive Senate seats up in 2020. Outside support in this race will be crucial. Gideon has told the Bangor Daily News that she has been in communication with top national Democrats about the race, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and the head of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. Collins has similar national help from Republicans and that aided her haul this time.

With another difficult Senate map on the horizon for Democrats, they see Maine as an opportunity even with a popular incumbent sitting in the seat. It’s all leading up to a pricey 2020 race.

Today in A-town

The Legislature is settling into a rhythm, but it’s more like singing Volga boatmen than Flashdance. The House and Senate return to session today, and three of Mills’ Cabinet nominees are scheduled for legislative committee confirmation hearings.

The committee bill referral process continues plodding along. Though this Legislature has yet to send any new bills to the governor’s office for signing, more unfinished business — bills vetted in committee and ready to be voted on — is beginning to appear on both chambers’ advance calendars. That means bill passage is imminent.

Eight legislative committees will meet today, including three slated to conduct confirmation hearings at 1 p.m. Find the full schedule here.

Anne Head, nominated by Mills to remain in her post as commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, will appear for the Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services.

Pender Makin, nominated to lead the Department of Education, will be interviewed by the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

Jeanne Lambrew, Mills’ pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, will appear before the Committee on Health and Human Services.

Reading list

— An attorney who worked for the governor when she was attorney general won a legislative committee’s endorsement to run the Department of Environmental Protection. After a six-hour hearing Wednesday that included opposition from the Penobscot Nation and advocates for tribal rights, the Legislature’s environmental committee unanimously endorsed Jerry Reid, whom Mills had nominated as commissioner of the agency assigned to safeguard Maine’s natural resources. Testimony against Reid centered on his role as an attorney in court battles that tribal members say stripped them of ancestral fishing rights. To conclude the nomination process, the Senate will soon vote on committee recommendations to confirm Reid and seven other Cabinet nominees who had won unanimous committee backing by Wednesday.

— The administration tapped a Maine Democratic Party insider to make retail marijuana sales happen. Maine Public reports that Erik Gundersen, recently elected as the party’s vice chair and a former Gideon aide, will lead the implementation process. The state recently voided a contract won by a California consultant to propose rules and procedures for retail marijuana sales, which Maine voters approved in 2016. The move raised concerns that the already much-delayed rollout of the state’s recreational pot system would slow even more. Gundersen also has experience in stand-up comedy.

— New Hampshire will weigh adopting ranked-choice voting for its high-profile presidential primary. The Associated Press reports that a Democratic legislator introduced a bill to implement a ranked-choice system in the Granite State before next year’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. As has been the case in Maine, which uses ranked-choice voting for congressional and primary elections, Republican lawmakers expressed opposition to implementing a ranked system. Click here to relive Maine’s experiences with ranked-choice voting, which has twice won voters’ approval in referendums and was used to determine the outcome of Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden‘s win over incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin last year.

— The anti-vax movement seems to be spreading to Maine pet owners. Humans who refuse to vaccinate their pets cite concerns about side effects, distrust of the corporations that produce the vaccines and commitment to holistic living among their reasons. But animal care experts say that shielding pets from recommended or mandated vaccinations puts the pets and other animals at risk. In the case of rabies, it’s against the law. Veterinarian Julie Keene of the Veazie Veterinary Clinic urged pet owners with reservations about vaccines to discuss those concerns with animal care professionals. “I think it’s important to have the conversation with the veterinarian about what can be done to make sure the pet is safe,” she said. “But we’re still vaccinating.”

Short fuse

While tiptoeing across the internet on Wednesday, I stumbled upon a report headlined “Study: Short men are angrier, more likely to commit violent assaults.”

My first thought was that the study must have focused exclusively on pugnacious hockey players like Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.

My next thought was, “Wow, not many legislators are tall.” My third thought, as is usually the case, was, “How can I make this work for me?”

After all, I’m way shorter than Mike Shepherd, and most of my other male colleagues are taller than I am, so perhaps I could cite this study as scientific evidence for why I might occasionally get nasty in newsroom arguments.

But then I did further research and learned that the study focuses more on stress caused among men with feelings of inadequacy about their masculinity and shrinkage-based paranoia. So instead of heading to the office primed to win a manly argument, I am going to take a detour to see if I can find a nice, soft-spoken therapist.

Preferably a tall one. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

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 three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...