The first debate in Maine's hotly contested Senate race is in the books, happening this past Friday night. It provided a clarifying moment for voters in the state, according to the state's preeminent political commentator, Bill Nemitz. There weren't fireworks, but there was a dogged determination on the part of Republican Susan Collins to dodge the issue of this election: Donald Trump. For months, Collins has been going to great and increasingly stupid lengths to avoid saying whether she voted for Trump in the state's primary this spring, or if she's going to vote for Trump in November.
Figuring it was a chance to finally pin her down, Democrat Sara Gideon brought up the bombshell news from Bob Woodward's tapes that Trump lied to the country about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. "So, I want to ask Senator Collins who she thinks should be leading this country," Gideon said. "She has neglected to answer that question and I'd like to give her the opportunity tonight." Collins response? Weak. She responded to the debate moderator, Pat Callaghan, "Well, Pat, let me say this. I don't think the people of Maine need my advice on whom to support for president." Which was a pretty dumb answer, as Nemitz explains. "Why, then, did Collins take to the op-ed pages of The Washington Post four years ago to announce she could not support then-candidate Trump because she found him 'unworthy' of occupying the Oval office?"
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Four years ago, Collins wanted the whole world to know how she felt about Trump. Now that he's systematically been destroying our nation for nearly four years, crickets? "If she considered it so important back then to share her opinion not just with Maine, but with the entire country," Nemitz asks, "why not now?" Collins went on to say that she'd been on a bus tour around Maine and "not a single person asked me who should be our next president." The problem for Collins is that everyone in Maine knows just how selected those audiences are. Collins hasn't had an open town meeting in her state in a quarter of a century. Her appearances there are before friendly crowds only. That's one of the keys to what has turned the state against her.
Newly activated Mainer Doug Poulin, who is 74, says "I had never marched, I had never phone-banked, I had never canvassed," before Trump. But now he's part of an Indivisible chapter in Bangor that's been attempting to get a meeting with Collins since her vote for Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. At least twice a month, his group goes to her Bangor office and tries to get her position on upcoming votes from her staff and to get a meeting. It's never worked. "I thought she was more responsive to her constituents—until I had to go and try to get a response from her," Poulin said.
It wasn't going to happen Friday night, either. Gideon tried again, in talking about the Black Lives Matter protests and the need for reform to end police brutality. "We also need real leadership," she said. "And I think that is why people keep asking Senator Collins who she thinks should be leading this country. It's not that Mainers are looking for advice about who to vote for, it's that they want to know who their senator thinks should be leading us." Collins didn't even ask for a chance to respond. She just let the debate move on.
The clarifying part of Friday's debate wasn't Collins making clear where she stands. It was her refusal to do so. As Nemitz says, "She's running for her political life with a hand over her mouth." And her insistence in doing so shows that "that hand belongs […] to Donald Trump."