Joe Biden, as vice president, administers the Senate oath to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during a ceremonial re-enactment swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. Collins' husband Tom Daffron is at center. Credit: Susan Walsh / AP

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Gray Cox of Bar Harbor teaches philosophy, peace studies and language learning at College of the Atlantic.

Sen. Susan Collins may soon face some momentous choices.

If the Democrats pick up one of the U.S. Senate seats in Georgia but not the other, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may remain leader of the Senate with the very slim majority of 51 to 49. In that case, depending on which bills he chooses to allow to come to a vote, Collins may be in a position to shine as an independent and bipartisan legislator and cast deciding votes that may advance the agenda of Maine and the nation.

However, if McConnell follows his past playbook, he is likely to obstruct most important possible victories for the Biden administration by preventing bills from even coming to the floor for a vote. That would not allow Collins to exercise her independence. In that case, what could she do?

One option will be to follow the path of her colleague, Sen. Angus King, and become an independent. She could then caucus with the Democrats, give them a majority, and let their leadership determine which bills come to the floor for a vote. This would be a big step for her.

In many ways it would be consistent with the brand she has tried to burnish throughout her career — as an independent thinker interested in getting results for Mainers and the nation. Further, it would mean she would not have to face another Republican primary and possible challenge. That in itself might let her exercise centrist independence that would make her re-election as secure as King’s. On the other hand, the painful rough and tumble of this last election might make it hard for her to cast her lot with Democrats, unless, perhaps, they were ready to restructure their own leadership and, for example, replace Chuck Schumer.

A second option might be more attractive for her if the path to it opens up. Her good working relationship with Joe Biden might lead to an invitation to join his administration. Like senator and then Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen before her, she might cross the aisle to serve in a high level post in some area of special interest for her. Gov. Janet Mills would then appoint a Democrat to replace her. 

Collins could then win in two ways. Key legislation she would want to support would come to the floor and get passed. And she would have a chance to add in new ways to her legacy through leading initiatives from within the new administration.

It will be interesting to see if any of these opportunities arise and, if they do, how she will respond to the challenges they present.

Correction: A previous version of this column misidentified Bill Cohen’s cabinet position.