U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won a historic fifth term in Tuesday’s election after a bruising race that began as a referendum on President Donald Trump but ended in a resounding win for the incumbent as voters across Maine split their tickets.

The incumbent Republican’s easy victory came after she trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in every independent public poll in 2020. Several showed a tight race in recent weeks, though surveys showed undecided voters breaking for Collins, though operatives on both sides were saying internal polling was close.

Collins’ victory comes as Republicans candidates across the country outperformed expectations in Senate races, giving the party a good chance of holding onto the chamber even if Trump loses to Democrat Joe Biden. If she serves out her term, her tenure will match the longest by a Maine senator. Collins’ idol, Margaret Chase Smith, lost her 1972 bid for a fifth term.

It ended up not being close. Collins had 51 percent of votes as of Wednesday afternoon to 42.4 percent for Gideon with independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn combining for 6.5 percent of votes. The Bangor Daily News and Decision Desk HQ called the race at 1:12 p.m. Wednesday.

“Let me say what an extraordinary honor it is to represent the great state of Maine and to know that I will have the opportunity to serve all of Maine for the next six years,” she told supporters in a Wednesday speech in Bangor.

Clockwise from left: Sen. Susan Collins waves goodbye after giving her victory speech to campaign staff, family and supporters at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bangor on Wednesday; Collins supporters celebrate her victory; Collins waves to the crowd; Collins smiles as she gives her victory speech. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

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.

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 and noting her roots in Aroostook County.

“I’ve voted for her every time she’s come back up,” said Mike Brochu, 57, of Lewiston, who also supported Trump in Tuesday’s election. “I knew her when she was just a receptionist in her father’s lumberyard.” 

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.

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Sara Gideon speaks with the media in Portland on Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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. 

“I am proud of the campaign we ran and regardless of the result, together, we built a movement that will make progress for years to come,” Gideon said in a virtual concession speech on Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats also dinged Collins for refusing to say whether she would personally vote for Trump, who she refused to criticize and declined to endorse ahead of the 2016 election. She dodged the question again on Wednesday after her victory speech, saying she would be able to work with any president.

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.

Collins benefited from an apparently large number of ticket-splitting voters as she outran Trump 10 percentage points across Maine, breaking from many other Republican candidates across the country. She won in many places carried by Biden and Maine’s two Democratic members of Congress, including Auburn, the biggest Maine city to flip to back Trump in 2016.

Merle Moore, 80, of Hampden voted for Collins and Biden, saying the former vice president “respects people.” His personal connection to the senator made a difference.

“I know her personally and she does a great job,” Moore said.

BDN writers Caitlin Andrews, Josh Keefe and Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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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...