U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks Friday during an appearance at the Penobscot Snowmobile Club in Hermon. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are 56 days until Election Day.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s not just important for the townspeople to have a place to access its history, but for people who are from other states just to wander around and look at the history of this area,” Dave Percival, a Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum volunteer, said about the iconic Port Clyde landmark rescued from developers in the 1980s. “They get appreciation for what this small town is about.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Coronavirus relief negotiations could pick up again as the Senate returns to Washington today. Republicans and Democrats failed to reach an agreement in August, with the two sides far apart on basic issues including the overall size of the relief package, the amount of expanded unemployment benefits and whether to include liability protections for businesses.

Republicans continue to balk at the high price tags of Democratic proposals, though it is not clear that Senate Republicans have 51 votes for any relief bill right now, Politico reported this morning. But Democrats have indicated they might block any bill that does not include at least $2 trillion in funding.

The stakes are high. Several financial lifelines that helped prop up the economy over the summer, including the Paycheck Protection Program and the additional $600 in unemployment benefits, have expired. The national unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in August, but new hiring has slowed and 67,000 Mainers are still receiving unemployment insurance at a lower level while the state works to implement a program giving workers an additional $300 per week.

The electoral implications are murkier. Both Republicans and Democrats have tried to blame the other party for earlier failures to reach a deal. House Democrats, who originally passed their own $3 trillion stimulus bill back in May, returned to Washington in August to pass a stand-alone bill providing $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, but a companion bill in the Senate co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, seems unlikely to gain traction.

Congressional leaders also need to agree on a short-term spending bill ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline. The White House and congressional Democrats have both indicated that they will support a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government for a few months to avoid a government shutdown ahead of the election. But the agreement is not final yet.

Collins will return to Maine at week’s end for the first debate in her nationally targeted Senate race, co-hosted by the Bangor Daily News. The senator won’t be tied to Washington long, since she needs to be back in Maine on Friday for the first debate in her 2020 race against House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage.

It will be must-see TV as the first meeting on the trail between the two party candidates. The 7 p.m. debate will be an hour long, hosted by News Center Maine, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald. It will air virtually statewide on TV and all partnering news organizations will stream it online.

The Maine politics top 3

— “How Susan Collins rallied the GOP base as she needs them more than ever,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “All of that [Democratic] energy around ousting Collins has rallied Republicans to her defense. That includes conservatives who have hammered the moderate before — such as in 2017 when she was one of three Republicans to turn back party bids to repeal the Affordable Care Act — and centrists who may dislike [former Gov. Paul] LePage or President Donald Trump. The non-base politician is in a base election.”

— “On campaign trail, Sara Gideon pairs progressive policy and bipartisan rhetoric,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Gideon has been leftward of Gov. Janet Mills, a fellow Democrat, on issues from gun control to a carbon tax in Augusta. During her campaign, she has indicated openness to removing the Senate filibuster, a move that could pave the way for her party to pass a public-option health care plan she also backs if they wrest control of the chamber from Republicans.”

A bombastic independent candidate is going up with a TV ad and an infomercial. Max Linn’s ads are not like the back-and-forth attacks you are seeing in the Gideon-Collins clash. In addition to a traditional 60-second spot — which vacillates between commenting on the “brokenness” of Washington, D.C., and campaign promises — Linn is launching a half-hour spot set to run in the Portland and Bangor markets. 

The long-form infomercial is adapted from Linn’s podcasts, giving him time to talk more about his positions in a way traditional ads do not. It is sure to be a pricey way to try and get voter’s attention, but Linn is relatively wealthy and he apparently sees spending as one of the only ways to detract from the high-dollar campaign between Gideon and Collins.

— “How Maine and the Trump campaign ended up on the same side of a voting rights lawsuit,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “President Donald Trump’s campaign has praised Maine’s relatively liberal voting system in court, making strange bedfellows with top Democratic officials as both are opposing a lawsuit from advocates for seniors who want more flexible options.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Watch more:

Michael Shepherd

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...