Update: The BDN and Decision Desk HQ called this race for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins at 1:12 p.m. Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins seemed likely to win a fifth term early Wednesday as she hovered just above a majority of votes and remained well ahead of House Speaker Sara Gideon in a surprising finish to a race that saw a record $200 million in spending.
The likely victory comes as Republican candidates across the country outperformed expectations in Senate races, giving the party a chance of holding onto control of the upper chamber. For Collins, it follows the most bitter and nationalized reelection campaign of her career that found her as an underdog for the first time in her Senate tenure.
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The incumbent Republican’s lead came after she trailed Gideon in every independent public poll in 2020, although several showed a tight race in recent weeks with undecided voters for the incumbent senator who predicted as late as Tuesday that the race would be close.
“I fight hard for the people of Maine each and every day and I am hopeful, fingers crossed, that I will be able to do that for six more years,” Collins told supporters in a speech outside the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor.
Collins, who won by 37 points in her last reelection campaign, has campaigned this year by highlighting bipartisan elements of her record, including her deciding vote against repealing the ACA in 2017 and her work on the Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable loan program for small businesses, while arguing that she had stayed constant even as politics had changed.
Lynda Werner, 61, of Portland, voted for Collins along with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday. Werner, a nurse and longtime Republican, said she disliked Trump but thought Collins was a “solid Maine person.”
“She is grassroots and has done a good job,” Werner said. “She works hard.”
Clockwise from left: Sen. Susan Collins gives her second speech of the night to staff and supporters during her campaign party at the Hilton Garden Inn late Tuesday night; Collins dances with supporters; Collins spoke to campaign staff, family and supporters shortly after polls closed; Collins speaks to supporters; Collins leaves her campaign party just before 2 a.m. Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Collins addressed jubilant supporters in Bangor late Tuesday night, thanking her staff and volunteers for their work while saying she would continue to wait for votes to be counted. She spoke twice during the evening with her campaign buses serving as backdrop as a private party ensued in the hotel.
Gideon did not speak at her campaign party on Tuesday at The Westin Portland Harborview in Portland. Her campaign manager, Amy Mesner, released a statement saying it was clear that the election “will not be called tonight and we are prepared to see it through to the finish.”
During the campaign, the senator and her allies criticized Gideon over the Maine Legislature’s closure due to the coronavirus and argued a freshman like Gideon would not be able to replicate Collins’ influence as the twelfth-highest ranking senator in terms of seniority.
Republicans also attempted to tie Gideon to establishment Democrats and extreme ends of her party, arguing she would follow along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and supported policies such as defunding the police, which Gideon says she opposes.
Democrats made their case against Collins about areas where she aligned most closely with Trump, including her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and her support for a 2017 Republican tax bill that became the basis for a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. They also dinged the incumbent senator for refusing to say whether she would personally vote for Trump, who she refused to endorse ahead of the 2016 election.
Amanda Klemmer, 34, a professor at the University of Maine, said she voted for Gideon on Tuesday because she felt Collins had “let our state down siding with President Trump.”
Gideon was working with significantly more money than Collins, having raised more than $68 million compared to $25 million for the incumbent, according to federal data. The candidates and outside groups have spent a combined more than $170 million in total.
BDN writers Eesha Pendharkar, Caitlin Andrews, Emily Burnham and Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.