Sara Gideon offers early hint at her campaign strategy in bid to oust Susan Collins

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House Speaker Sara Gideon has joined the nationally targeted race to unseat U.S. Sen. Susan Collins with an early campaign message that looks to contrast relative bipartisanship of the Maine Legislature compared to a largely gridlocked Congress.

Her campaign looks to be in keeping with a strategy that helped Democrats win the U.S. House of Representatives last year, though the party has a difficult map in 2020 that is underscored by the fact that Collins — who won in 2014 with 68 percent of votes — is one of their top targets.

Gideon says her campaign won’t take money from corporate committees, though she did at the state level, where she points to more legislative progress. In her Monday announcement, Gideon said her campaign won’t take money from corporate political action committee. That was a strategy that began in earnest among Democrats in 2018 and has continued into the party’s 2020 nominating race for president, though the Center for Responsive Politics has said that it may not be much of a sacrifice for Democratic challengers because those PACs give more to Republicans and incumbents.

Gideon took a swipe at Collins, a Republican, for taking more than $1 million in her Senate career from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Collins saw record fundraising numbers after her lightning-rod November vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the backs of large and out-of-state donors.

However, Gideon has taken corporate money by way of her state leadership PAC, which is normal in Augusta politics. Her PAC raised $272,000 since 2014 and among the groups that gave it more than $3,000 or more were gambling giant Churchill Downs, the health insurer Anthem, PhRMA, the major trade group representing drug manufacturers, and Visa.

On Monday, Gideon noted “a lot of concern” that special-interest money is influencing congressional politics. When asked if it was influencing state politics, she contrasted the Legislature’s recent, bipartisan approval of a package of bills aimed at lowering prescription drug prices with a Congress that is moving little in the way of consequential legislation.

She’s walking a fine line between touting bipartisanship and running against the person who VoteView labels the most moderate senator since 2013. In her video, Gideon says “at one point, maybe she was different than some of the other folks in Washington, but she doesn’t seem that way anymore.” She’ll have to convince voters that much has changed.

From that message to a campaign launch that got heavy national buzz, Maine is seeing the beginning of what will probably be its first mega-campaign. Gideon’s roll-out looks to have been a success by the metrics of the Internet, for what that’s worth: Her Senate campaign had no Twitter followers at Monday’s start and now has nearly 84,000 and her video has more than 2 million views on Twitter, not counting a paid advertising campaign on other sites.

Politico noted on Monday that Democrats lost out on many of their top-tier Senate recruits in other states, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called Gideon and other recruits “new” and “fresh-faced” and along the same lines of the candidates who won the House for Democrats in 2018. Still, the national map for Democrats is difficult and Collins led Gideon handily in a March poll from Pan Atlantic Research.

Gideon still has to get through a primary that includes lobbyist and 2018 gubernatorial hopeful Betsy Sweet — who finished third in that Democratic primary and shouldn’t be counted out — and little-known lawyer Bre Kidman. Other potential challengers loom including Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and developer Rosa Scarcelli. But she and Collins look primed to deliver the biggest and most expensive campaign that Maine has ever seen if they match up in 2020.


Reading list

— Amid an influx of asylum seekers, Maine’s largest city continues to seek aid from the state. Maine Public reports that Portland officials are still waiting to hear from the state about how it might help provide aid to the hundreds of asylum seekers who have arrived in recent weeks. The Legislature adjourned last week without taking final action on a proposal to relax General Assistance rules in a way that would provide some state financial assistance to Portland. Mayor Ethan Strimling said that while the city has raised about $400,000 in donations during the past few weeks, expanding state aid to the asylum seekers would make a big difference. “Once we know what our partner is going to do, then I think we can figure out the best way to utilize those funds,” he said of ongoing exploration of state aid.

— Bangor city councilors passed a budget that won’t pay for police body cameras. The $104.4 million spending plan approved Monday night includes grant funding for a homeless outreach caseworker and more than $4 million in infrastructure upgrades. But privacy and cost concerns spurred councilors to pass the budget without the proposed $175,000 that would pay to have police officers wear body cameras.

— The head of Maine’s emergency management system is leaving. The governor’s office announced Monday that Suzanne Krauss will depart to take a job in the private sector. Former Gov. Paul LePage picked Krauss in 2017 to head the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Peter Rogers, the agency’s deputy director, will serve as acting director. Rogers previously served as acting director before Krauss took helm of the agency.


Pool rules

Bucksport’s decision not to open its leaking municipal swimming pool this year conjured memories of summers past. None of them were good.

Some kind of odd ear canal condition that causes my head to fill up with water when I submerge it makes swimming less fun for me than it is for most people. I became aware of this condition when my parents sentenced me to swimming lessons at the municipal pool in the town where I grew up. The instructor really did have a German accent. She insisted on holding the back of my head as I knelt on the asphalt at the side of the pool and grew increasingly panicked and disoriented with my face in the water. What the chlorine didn’t kill, her motivational tactics did.

I still have a hard time enjoying myself in the water. My fondest memories of that pool are the times that the lifeguards had to kick everyone out whenever Billy Elian would jump in and lose his false teeth in the process. Billy had lost his front choppers when he hit a tree face-first at the bottom of a sledding hill. I’m pretty sure he dramatically spit out his fake front teeth for dramatic effect while diving into the pool, although he swore it was accidental. It garnered a lot of attention, but not all of it was positive. More than once, an erstwhile swimmer whose feet were burning on the asphalt while the sun blistered his skin as the lifeguards used nets on poles to fish for the dentures threatened to knock out the rest of Billy’s teeth if he did it again.

Municipal pools seem like great ideas in cities, but the one where I grew up was across the street from a pond. We got more use out of it as an unsanctioned ball hockey arena after it had been drained for the season. Full of eye-stinging chlorinated water, it was more a status symbol than a sign of well-spent taxpayer dollars. And ponds seem like much more civilized places to learn how to swim. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.