In the first two debates of the race, Sen. Susan Collins has dodged or flat-out refused to answer several questions on the grounds that they cover state or local issues.
At times it's been uncomfortable to watch, even for a Collins critic: There's something wince-inducing about seeing a seasoned pol summon the mixture of presumption and smugness that it takes to reject out of hand a good faith inquiry from a neutral moderator. One wants to nudge Collins and whisper in her ear that she's making herself look standoffish and might want to tone it down.
But it's clearly a considered choice: Collins's implicit position is that she's running for federal office and so only national issues are germane.
Yet that's an awfully cramped view of what this--or any--Senate race is about, which is part of why the questions keep coming up. And it's frankly surprising that the senior senator has gotten away with this kind of dodge for as long as she has.
Because a US Senate election isn't just about a state sending off an emissary to legislate national issues. It's a statewide community's process for tapping one of its own as a representative in Washington.
By circumscribing a wide array of salient issues as beyond the purview of what she's willing to talk about, Collins sets herself apart from (and above?) that community and the political discussions it's having with itself. She paints herself as an outsider and a conundrum.
Mainers accepted those terms in her last election. But for whatever reason, it's proving more awkward this time around.