Sara Gideon and Susan Collins Credit: BDN composite photo

DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — The temperature was below freezing Friday morning when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and House Speaker Sara Gideon rose to make their final cases to voters.

The fourth-term Republican incumbent made a pre-dawn stop at Bath Iron Works before meeting with business owners in five counties along U.S. Route 1 on Friday. Her Democratic challenger took health care questions in a covered tent next to a sports complex in Augusta before a daylong swing through western Maine ending with a drive-in rally in Cumberland.

The two are criss-crossing the state this weekend to make final arguments as they near the Tuesday election. The race could decide control of the Senate, has been marked by record spending nearing $200 million and was shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

Their arguments echo themes hit throughout a consistent race. Gideon is focused on health care. Collins highlights her seniority and support of small businesses. The incumbent has criticized Gideon over the Maine Legislature’s mid-March adjournment. The Democrat has pointed to congressional inaction on another stimulus bill in the past few months while linking Collins to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and President Donald Trump.

Polling has been tight. Gideon led Collins by one percentage point in a SurveyUSA poll released Thursday, though the Democrat may benefit from ranked-choice voting with Mainers supporting independent Lisa Savage likely to put Gideon as their second choice. Another independent, Max Linn, is also running, but his smaller group of backers appear more divided.

Greeting supporters in Damariscotta on Friday, Collins chatted informally about a range of issues, including her work on the Paycheck Protection Program, a $669 billion program first passed in the March stimulus that provided loans for more than 28,000 Maine small businesses.

She also decried the negative tone of the race, noting that the end was “in sight.” Outside spending in the Senate race has eclipsed $90 million. It has been mostly negative, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. While it has slightly favored Gideon, attacks have gone both ways.

“We need to tell them that this kind of campaign does not work for Maine,” Collins said.

Speaking to a few dozen supporters in the state capital, Gideon took questions about her proposed public option and how she would address high prescription drug prices. She hit Republicans for having “no plan” to replace the Affordable Care Act if it is repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court after the election.

“Everything that we care about and hold dear is on the line,” Gideon said. “Everything that we are, and everything that we can give to each other, and the very idea of how government can improve our lives — all of that is on the ballot.”

Su Locsin of Augusta, who attended Gideon’s town hall, said seeing the Democrat in person made her feel optimistic about change after four years of Trump’s presidency.

“I think that Sara has a uniquely positive attitude that can get things done,” Locsin said.

While the candidates traverse Maine in the final weekend before the election, more than 475,000 voters had successfully voted by absentee ballot as of Friday afternoon, according to state data. Officials have urged the method as a safe alternative during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandra Johns of Bremen, among the customers who greeted Collins at Damariscotta Hardware on Friday morning, had not voted yet but said she planned to vote for Collins and other Republicans. She cited the senator’s reliability, noting Collins has never missed a vote during her 24-year tenure in the Senate.

“She’s from Maine, and she loves Maine, and we need that,” Johns said.

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