Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

Regarding the flap over RNC chair candidate Chip Saltsman's circulation of a CD including a song called, "Barack the Magic Negro":

"When I heard about the story I had to figure out what was going on for myself,” said Mark Ellis, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party. "When I found out what this was about I had to ask, 'boy, what's the big deal here?' because there wasn't any."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good For Her

Sen. Collins joined Sen. Snowe in voting for cloture on the auto bailout bill.

Whatever you think of the substance of the legislation, the issues involved are serious enough to have deserved an up or down vote.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

About Allen

I appreciate your comments--and also your e-mails. They raise a couple points I'd like to respond to.

1. I don't take issue with the idea that Rep. Allen ran a poor campaign. And I think there's a strong case to be made that even with much better reporting and editorial coverage from BDN and PPH, he still might have lost.

As I wrote in the post:

That's not too say that the skewed coverage from PPH--or BDN or the AP--proved decisive in the Allen-Collins race. And it's doesn't in any way excuse or explain away the Allen campaign's mistakes.
Much could be written about where the Allen folks went wrong. But I'm really not that interested in Allen, and never have been.

Contrary to what's been said and implied by some of our right-leaning readers, he's never been what this blog was about.

So my point really isn't that the press sank Allen or that the press is to blame for his loss. I wasn't trying to summarize the race, or explain why Collins won and Allen lost.

My point, instead, is that the press did an abysmal job. And in way that seemed designed to benefit Sen. Collins. Period.

2. I also didn't mean to imply that Collins should have lost the race over the Edwards interview. (I think it was an embarrassing--and revealing--slip. But in the scheme of things, I don't think it was terribly significant.)

I highlighted the coverage of the Edwards flap because I thought it spoke to the nature of the coverage overall, and because it provided two simple, concrete examples of journalism gone awry.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Maine Media

After clicking "Publish Post" and tipping off a few national outlets, I go to bed August 13 convinced that I've stumbled on a scoop.

And sure enough, the next morning my hunch is confirmed: By sunrise, the post I've written about Sen. Collins and a stunningly undignified radio interview has been picked up by Election Central. In the hours that follow--as the Collins Watch hit counter soars high into triple digits--ABCNews.com and The Politico also run stories.

That prominent local publications are a bit slower to pick up on the news isn't much of a surprise. By August, I've learned that hoping for timely, incisive coverage from PPH and BDN--and pointing out the gaps in their coverage--is an exercise in futility.

By August, it's become clear that just about anything that might cast Sen. Collins in a negative light is bound to be dismissed or ignored by both papers.

And so I've realized that a better way--and maybe the only way--to get Maine's two most influential outlets to pay attention to salient developments in the Allen-Collins race is to go over their heads, directly to the national media.

My theory? By forcing the papers to chase national coverage of a story in their own backyard, editors might become embarrassed enough to actually do their jobs.

It seems like a plausible hypothesis. Certainly nothing else had worked.

And sure enough, late in morning, with the Collins interview story bouncing from one national outlet to the next, my judgment is vindicated: I receive an e-mail from a PPH reporter, asking to talk on the phone.

*

Flash forward 24 hours.

It's now a full day-and-a-half since my original Wednesday night post--and an entire news cycle since the Collins interview has made the rounds of the national media.

With the story continuing to gather steam, something seems amiss: There's still no sign of coverage from the AP.

The AP's failure, even late on Friday morning, to acknowledge the story is puzzling for a couple of reasons: First, as the one national news organization with a journalistic presence in Maine, it seems perfectly positioned to deliver an authoritative article on the the incident.

But more to the point: I'd actually included an AP reporter in my original Wednesday night batch of e-mails. (In August, I remained agnostic about the quality of the AP's Allen-Collins coverage--there had been precious little of it.) So there's simply no reason for the wire service to be late to the party.

And yet, still nothing.

What to make of the AP's apparent silence--36 hours and two calendar days later--about a development quickly becoming the most attention-grabbing twist in the Allen-Collins race?

As I mull that question over late Friday morning, a story finally finds its way onto Boston.com, Foster's Daily Democrat and elsewhere around 11am.

Better late than never.

But there's a problem. And it's a big one: The story has a key fact wrong.

And not just wrong, but wrong in a way that completely recasts the events in question.

Here's the beginning of the article's third paragraph:

During the Portland radio program, Collins was asked if she thought Edwards was the father.
If you remember the Collins interview, you know that this isn't just kinda-sorta-not-correct. It's a complete invention: Collins wasn't asked anything of the kind.

Indeed, the fact that Collins wasn't asked is a big part of why her breach of decorum garnered so much attention: She'd blabbed and blabbed about Edwards with very little prompting

Collins, you'll remember, seemed to seize on a single, open-ended question ("Were you shocked [about Edwards]?") to drive the conversation in a sordid, gossipy direction minutes later.

And yet here was the AP, falsely framing her claim about Edwards as if it had been elicited by a direct question.

How on earth did such a basic, obvious error make its way into the copy?

After all, the video was available for repeated viewing online. It could be stopped, restarted and replayed. And even on a single viewing, anyone paying attention would come away knowing that Collins hadn't been asked directly about Edwards' paternity.

So was the AP extraordinarily lazy? Was the reporter actively attempting to whitewash the incident?

(It's worth noting that, somehow, an identical error made its way into a contemporaneous report from WCSH6. It would be interesting to know--though I've never tried to find out--whether either outlet talked to the Collins campaign during the preparation of their stories.)

As soon as I finish reading the article, I send an e-mail to the AP reporter I'd originally contacted about the scoop. And he writes back within minutes to acknowledge the error and tell me that the story would be corrected.

In the meantime, the false story pops up on more news sites. And when the fix does surface, it swaps in language that, while technically true, leaves the same false impression:

When asked during the Portland radio program about the affair, Collins said she thought Edwards was the father.
Of course, you'd think, reading that sentence, that Collins' commentary about Edwards paternity was a reply to something that had actually been asked. You'd have no grounds to conclude--and be surprised to learn--that her claim about Edwards was made more or less unprompted. Or that it was made as Collins returned the conversation to Edwards even after the host had attempted to change the subject.

Again: Not exactly false. And not a complete whitewash. But also not how you'd characterize the exchange if your aim (and your job) was to accurately capture what had transpired.

When I e-mail the AP to point out that the new language is--at best--misleading, I receive a curt reply 10 minutes later.

Does the reply concede that the sentence is unhelpful, or at least inartful? Will the AP fix the story in an effort to deliver readers a more accurate picture of the interview?

What do you think?

Saturday papers in Maine and elsewhere carry the misleading text.

Except for the papers that run the original, categorically false version.

*

Back to that e-mail from PPH.

I give the reporter a call, and we talk for a bit.

Our discussion is off the record. But one of the reporter's unspoken aims, clearly, is to assess whether I'd been tipped off to the interview's existence by the Allen campaign. (I hadn't been, and say so.)

So a good deal of our chat is about how word of the interview spread on the web and where it spread to.

I hang up the phone encouraged: It seems like PPH is going to follow through here.

And sure enough, an article surfaces on the PPH website within hours.

To the reporter's credit, the piece (unlike the later AP story) accurately summarizes the radio interview and quotes from it at length. But there's a curious claim tucked in toward the middle of the article:

The video is now circulating around the Internet, mainly on political blogs written by Democrats.
It's a strange observation to make: After all, how often does PPH, as part of its coverage, examine which other outlets are pursuing the same story? And how does introducing such an expansive, time-sensitive claim advance the reader's understanding of the underlying issue?

Notably, the claim seems designed to diminish the story in the minds of readers--by telegraphing that the video is garnering attention mostly from Democratic partisans.

In short, it strikes me as an odd choice. But that's just my take, of course. Including the claim is certainly a defensible news judgment--provided that it's true.

The problem is, it isn't true. And hasn't been since the story broke.

By any objective count, and all day long, the video had been posted on at least as many non-partisan sites (among them, ABCNews.com, The Politico, PolitickerME.com, WGME, PPH itself) as left-leaning blogs (Collins Watch, Turn Maine Blue, Daily Kos, Maine Politics and Senate Guru).

And so what we're left with is a false, superfluous sentence that just so happens to serve as Collins-friendly spin, undermining criticism of the junior senator that arises from the interview.

I point this out in an e-mail to the reporter at 5:45pm, shortly after the online "news update" goes live on the web. I remind him about all the non-partisan sites on which the video can be found, and include a current list.

As you might guess, the e-mail receives no reply. The story isn't fixed for the print edition. As far as I know, no correction ever runs.

*

These are two of the more obvious--and least important--reporting errors that redounded to Susan Collins' advantage over the course of the campaign.

By contrast, the lion's share of media falsehoods, omissions, mischaracterizations and elisions that Collins benefited from were more subtle, and more substantive.

Of course, the most glaring, systemic problem with the coverage from BDN, PPH and the AP was the way all three uncritically accepted--and reinforced--Collins' moderate branding.

Neither of Maine's influential dailies interrogated Collins' claims to ideological independence: Not a single article in either publication was devoted to putting her carefully-crafted moderate image in the context of her actual record in Congress.

Not a single piece set her bipartisan rhetoric up against her actions in the Senate.

And when Allen was allowed to discuss Collins' record--on the rare occasions when the papers printed more than a soundbite--his allegations were always placed in the context of he-said/she-said coverage. Never were they used as a jumping off point for further examination and reporting.

That's the big picture. And it says a lot about how uninterested both papers were in bringing a critical, hard news approach to Senate race coverage.

But there were tons of flagrant, day-to-day flaws in the coverage, too.

At BDN, a former Collins staffer (with a wife who recently worked for the junior senator) ran a paper that, even before the campaign started, was famous for skewing its coverage to prop up Collins.

And in 2007-8, BDN didn't disappoint: It passed off objective facts unfriendly to Collins as allegations; framed Collins-friendly assertions as fact; collapsed distinctions between the two candidates that put Collins at a disadvantage; gave Collins more--and more prominent-- coverage than her opponent; cherry-picked statistics to lead readers away from the truth; mischaracterized the state of the race; and complained about efforts to film Collins in public.

(A September e-mail to BDN editor Mark Woodward asking about how his recusal from campaign coverage had worked out went unreturned.)

Meanwhile, BDN's schizophrenic editorial page managed to heartily endorse Collins even as it criticized the Iraq war, supported the Employee Free Choice Act, opposed retroactive immunity for telecom companies and opposed gutting habeas corpus. (Can anyone square that circle for me?)

In sum, BDN's coverage was preposterous. It was a joke. No informed, careful reader could possibly take it seriously.

PPH, however, was a more complicated--and more troubling--case.

More troubling because Portland Press Herald is widely perceived as a center-left outlet and an honest broker of information.

Over the last couple of years, it's earned a reputation for dull, spotty coverage. But when it came to the Allen-Collins race, few casual observers would have expected the paper's news judgment to tilt markedly toward Susan Collins.

And yet that's exactly what happened.

PPH rewrote history in its headlines; glossed over key difference between Collins and Allen on Iraq; drew false equivalencies to downplay egregious behavior from the Collins camp; took months to look at the false card check attacks on Allen; parroted Collins' misleading charges about Allen without debunking them; and in April through July, hid polls that showed a close race while trumpeting those that put Collins well ahead.

(That last point may seem minor. But keep in mind: For a challenger, fundraising is much easier when a race appears close than when there's a wide margin. By emphasizing polls that showed Collins way ahead, the paper made it harder for Allen to raise money--and thus, harder for him to close the gap with Collins.)

Notably, the paper never even ran profiles of the two candidates.

And even though PPH serves a left-leaning constituency, and though the race was widely thought to be pivotal to Democratic hopes of reaching 60 seats, the paper never offered a single article or a chart sketching out the positions of the candidates on the major issues.

It also often ignored the race for extended period.

On its opinion page, it ran scarcely any op-Eds on the race in the months leading up to the election. In fact, the page featured more frequent and incisive coverage of the Allen-Collins race in 2007 than 2008.

Of course, as everyone knows, in 2008 PPH found itself facing steep losses and layoffs. And so it makes sense to wonder whether the paper's red ink might explain the glaring, incumbent-friendly omissions in its coverage.

But that seems not to have been the case: After all, if scarcity of resources was the problem, how did editors find the time and space to run a lavish six part series contrasting President-elect Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on the issues?

Why was such a substantive, comprehensive approach taken to the McCain-Obama race--even though national outlets were better positioned to cover it--while the paper virtually ignored the important national race that it was uniquely situated to examine.

Clearly, what we're talking about here is a question not of resources but of priorities. Scrutinizing Susan Collins simply wasn't high on PPH's list.

*

So were people inside PPH actively hoping to help Collins--or were they just lazy, and inappropriately deferential?

From my vantage point, it makes little difference--the effect is what matters.

(Though it certainly raises eyebrows that the paper's campaign coverage was overseen by Andrew Russell, who managed to spike PPH's biggest political scoop of the decade and then retain his job through several rounds of cuts over the years that followed.)

That's not to0 say that the skewed coverage from PPH--or BDN or the AP--proved decisive in the Allen-Collins race. And it's doesn't in any way excuse or explain away the Allen campaign's mistakes. (I'd argue that one of their biggest miscalculations was not appreciating just how hostile a media environment they faced.)

But the biased coverage clearly did have an impact--both by framing the race for Mainers and by filtering down to other print outlets and local TV.

We can't know exactly how thing might have played out if, for example, PPH had swapped staffs with the no-nonsense, professional folks at Anchorage Daily News.

But the examples of Minnesota and Oregon--two blue states that featured competitive Senate races this fall--provide some clues.

In both of those progressive states, center-right newspapers (the Star Tribune and Oregonian, respectively) play crucial media roles. But in each case, owners and editors seem to have given political reporters the leeway to follow stories where they led, and to pursue them aggressively.

And in both states, respected alternative weeklies help to keep the big papers honest: Editors know that their coverage risks being ridiculed in print--and scooped--if it becomes biased or lackadaisacal.

(For whatever reason, The Portland Phoenix, which seems well-positioned to play such a role, took little interest in the Allen-Collins race.)

Those differences mattered. And while there were certainly many other factors at play, it's an important part of why Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) were less successful than Collins at portraying themselves as non-ideological, post-partisan figures.

*

Anyway, all that is history.

The good news is that the recent sale of PPH provides a great opportunity for turning the page.

On the other hand, the fact that the paper was sold to well-connected establishment types isn't particulary encouraging.

Will the new owners be more interested in telling readers the truth? Or in playing kingmaker--and coddling the powerful?

Will they want a newsroom full of reporters who follow the facts where they lead? Who ask tough questions that speak to the interests and concerns of their readers? Or will they want a paper peopled by yes-men and yes-women who do their best not to ruffle any feathers?

And: Will anyone ask them any of these questions?

It would be a bit overdramatic to say that the health of Maine's democracy rides on the answers. But not by much.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hello Out There

I've been working on a long post, pulling together some observations about the Allen-Collins race. But it's going to take me a bit longer to get it finished.

In the meantime, please do keep us on your feeds and in your bookmarks.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Collins Wins

According to the AP. Congratulations to Sen. Collins and her team.

We'll have some more thoughts in the next few days. But for the moment, you'll forgive us if our attention is focused elsewhere.

Flashback: The Case Against Collins

This blog's first post, almost two years ago on November 24, 2006:

The recent election gave lefties a once-a-decade jolt: The good guys won, the Republican party got the throttling it deserved, and even candidates who once seemed unbeatable--Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) come to mind--went down to defeat.

But as election night unfolded, as Democrats soared ahead in one tough congressional district after another and hung close in places like Wyoming and Idaho, one bad result seemed like a real head-scratcher: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) absolutely obliterated her Democratic opponent, capturing 74% of the vote and winning by a staggering 53% points. (Hillary Clinton, by contrast, won her race by 36%.)

With candidates to the left of Snowe garnering 90% of the senate vote in nearby Connecticut, it was hard not to see Snowe's landslide win as a missed opportunity. That Snowe was able to win in a walk seemed even more unfortunate once we learned that only a single Republican congressman had survived in New England.

So, how did a Republican in Maine--a state, keep in mind, that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) carried by a solid nine points--win in a breeze as her GOP colleagues succumbed left and right?

The answer probably has something to do with the strength of Snowe's opponent--I haven't looked closely at how that campaign developed, and won't do so here. I'm more interested in the factor that likely kept the race from becoming competitive in the first place: Namely, that Snowe is widely perceived, even on the left, as a different kind of Republican--an independent-minded, fiscally conservative, socially moderate centrist who bucks her party when it veers too far to the right.

It's a great niche for a blue state Republican. But the facts are a little more complicated.

Yes, Snowe is pro-choice, supports stem cell research, and has a not-terrible record on environmental issues.

But she also voted for Bush's irresponsible, budget-busting 2001 and 2005 tax cuts.

As recently as June 2006, with the federal debt soaring to record levels, she supported permanently repealing the estate tax.

Snowe voted for the bankruptcy bill, against repealing tax subsidies for companies that move US jobs offshore, and for allowing lobbyists to continue to make some gifts to Congress.

She voted in favor of Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court and 'Yes' on a flag burning amendment to the constitution.

She voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.

These votes and others earned Snowe 78% ratings in 2005 from both the US Chamber of Commerce and the hard-right Concerned Women for America.

So: A liberal Republican maverick? Or a solid Bush ally who has made a few head-fakes toward the center?

It may seem, at this point, like an academic question. But it isn't: Maine will face a similar choice in 2008, when Snowe's Republican colleague Sen. Susan Collins is on the ballot.

Collins sided with Snowe on all of the above-referenced votes.

Of course, the two senators don't have identical candidate profiles--for example, Collins voted in favor of Bush's 2003 $350 billion tax cut for the wealthy, which Snowe opposed. She also backed the President's torture-embracing military commissions bill, a vote which Snowe managed to skip.

(Collins also strikes me as the weaker public speaker of the two, and the less charismatic.)

But Collins, like Snowe, has cast herself in the role of the thoughtful moderate, even though a few minutes poking around the web reveals that the record is a bit muddier.

Will progressives make defeating Collins a priority in 2008? Or will we cede another blue state senate seat to the GOP?

If Democrats learned one thing in 2006, let's hope it's that even strong GOP candidates can be beaten when Democrats mount serious challenges.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Flashback of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins:

"It's essentially giving federal approval to ethnic cleansing," Collins said. "On the other hand, nothing seems to be working."
Context here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rasmussen: Collins +16 (!)

Via Marisol, we learn of a new Rasmussen poll with great news for the Collins camp:

Tom Allen (D): 41 (43) (42) (38) (42) (42) (42) (38)

Susan Collins (R-inc): 57 (53) (55) (53) (49) (49) (52) (54)

(Figures in parenthesis represent results from previous months.)

For reasons that are unclear, the Rasmussen folks haven't included breakdowns by party in this release.

But it really doesn't matter: Rasmussen is one of the most reliable pollsters out there. And their numbers have, at every stage of this race, been among the least favorable to Collins.

So the fact that she's expanded her lead here--and that it's moved into the mid-teens--has to be a huge comfort to Sen. Collins and her team.

Before this poll, Rep. Allen had a plausible, long-shot path to victory.

But with this result, the Allen team now has to hope for an extraordinary, once-a-decade electoral anomaly on Tuesday.

That kind of thing is probably more likely to happen in a 100 year flood election like this one. But it remains awfully unlikely.

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flashback of the Day

November 4, 2003:

The Senate yesterday sent President Bush an $87.5 billion spending package for Iraq and Afghanistan, capping a month of tumultuous debate in Congress over how much of a burden to place on American taxpayers for Iraq's reconstruction.

[...]

"Despite my reservations, I believe that this package will pave the way to the day when our soldiers finally come home from Iraq," Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said.
--Philadelphia Inquirer

PPH All Alone

Bangor Daily News--thoroughly in the tank for Sen. Collins--yesterday ran an op-Ed making the basic case against the junior senator.

It's a pretty simple argument, though it's striking how rarely Maine media outlets allow it to be made. Which is why BDN deserves something like credit for letting it be heard just four days before the election.

When's the last time PPH has ran a left-leaning column about the Allen-Collins race?

And why on earth would a nominally center-left publication--serving a progressive, left-of-center readership--shut that kind of commentary out of its paper?

No, it's not an oversight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Collins: Partisanship Biggest Issue

Sen. Collins has said similar things before, but I don't remember her ever stating it this plainly:

I believe the biggest issue facing our country right now is an excessive partisanship.
So much for the economy, so much for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If partisanship is the problem, how does standing by corrupt, convicted felons in your own party help solve it?

Distancing

I don't think the word means what Jerry Harkavy thinks it means.

His piece also makes it sound like Rep. Allen has been talking mostly about Iraq lately--which just isn't true.

And Harkavy has to reach back to 2005--and a relatively minor process-related kerfuffle--to establish Sen. Collins' bipartisan credentials.

Other than that, the article is great.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

PPH Gets Punk'd?

What does Portland Press Herald think of Sen. Collins' stance on corrupt, convicted felons serving in the Senate?

Remember, PPH endorsed Susan Collins not on the strength of her positions on the big issues, but instead (at least purportedly) because she's a moderate bipartisan centrist.

And yet Collins' decision to stand by a man guilty of seven felonies--stemming from public corruption and the abuse of official power--is nakedly partisan. It's about as transparent a betrayal of good government principles as you can imagine.

An honest newspaper would be sure to call out and criticize such a transparent act of cynical, partisan politics. Especially on the eve of an election.

Which is why there's a good chance PPH's editorial page won't even mention it.

Priorities

The PAC of the Associated General Contractors of America is running web ads--they've even been popping up on the right-hand margin here--singing the praises of Sen. Collins.

The organization's apparent top priority: Repeal of the estate tax.

At least they're upfront about it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Feedback

PPH's article about Sen. Collins and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has an interesting comments section.

It's safe to say that the junior senator's response to the conviction has not been a big hit with the locals.

Dems: Felons Shouldn't Serve

From the Maine Dems:

If Susan Collins really believes that convicted felons have a place in the Senate, she clearly does not represent the kind of change that people in Maine are hungry for.

Stevens One More Time

It's worth stating again, as baldly as possible:

Sen. Collins thinks it's okay for a lawmaker convicted of felonies to continue serving in the United States Senate.

Even when the felonies committed involve public corruption and the abuse of official power.

It's hard to get into the mindset of someone whose moral compass leads her to such a bewildering conclusion. And it raises real questions about where Susan Collins draws her ethical bright lines.

But in any case, Collins' support for Stevens makes it clear as day that the junior senator is no reformer. She's not a truth teller or an independent thinker.

She's a partisan Republican willing to do ethical somersaults to preserve Republican power.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Collins Partisanship Primer

Sure, Sen. Collins votes with President Bush pretty much whenever it counts. But as everyone knows, she's just not a partisan person.

Except that:

--Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) thinks she's a quintessential GOP team player.

--She considers Karl Rove an old friend.

--She called Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) a "great choice" for Vice President.

--She remains state co-chair for a Republican presidential campaign she concedes is engaged in deplorable tactics.

--She gave Sen. Ted Stevens $5,000 at a time when his indictment seemed inevitable.

--Even though Stevens has been convicted of a felony, she's refusing to call for him to step down.

--She mocked a former Democratic colleague about sensitive, private issues on live radio.

--She says she'd welcome fundraising help from President Bush.

--She's was the most popular recipient of financial support from her GOP colleagues through most of the year.

--Her PAC never gives money to Democrats.

--She socializes with anti-gay reactionary Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

What am I missing?

Thought of the Day

It's one thing to be a team player. It's another thing to kick the ref in the shins.

Collins: Felons Can Serve

It's been 27 years since a senator was convicted of a felony. And it took the threat of expulsion for him to resign.

Make no mistake: It may take similar pressure to bounce Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) out of the Senate.

For Sen. Snowe, it seems to be a no-brainer:

"The public trust above all else must be upheld, and therefore I believe that stepping down would be the right thing to do."
Sounds awfully straightforward to me.

But Sen. Collins won't call for him to resign. She apparently has no problem with a convicted felon continuing to serve in the upper chamber of the nation's legislature.

Did she send her ethical radar to Stevens, along with the $10,000?

Collins Stands Alone?

A list of Senate Republicans who have publicly called on Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to step down:

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) [link]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) [link]

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) [link]

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) [link]

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [link]

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) [link]

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) [link]

Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) [link]

There are probably more, but this is what we've been able to find so far. We'll add more names as they become available.

What's She Thinking?

Sen. Collins clearly believes it's acceptable for seven-time felons--convicted of public corruption--to continue serving in the Senate. That in itself is a shocker.

But look at the fact pattern here:

--Collins contributes $5,000 to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) as an FBI investigation into his actions gathers steam.

--Collins doubles down with another $5,000 investment in Stevens a month before his indictment, at a time when the seriousness of the case against him is undeniable. (She's one of only three incumbents fighting for reelection to contribute to him during that period.)

--Stevens is convicted of seven felonies. As her colleagues line up to call on him to step down, Collins balks.

What on earth is going on here?

Collins Stands With Stevens

In an inexplicable move that puts her at odd with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), Sen. Snowe and other prominent Republicans, Sen. Collins is refusing to call for the resignation of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who was convicted of seven felonies earlier this week:

"The people of Alaska will have an opportunity to express their view in just six days," Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said in an e-mail.
The conviction arose, you'll remember, from a a federal public corruption probe.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gang of Nine

Sen. Collins was one of nine Republican senators to funnel money to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) through a leadership PAC in the weeks leading up to Stevens' indictment, an analysis of campaign finance data at fec.gov shows.

Stevens recorded contributions from nine fellow senators on or after June 11, 2008. He was indicted on July 29.

UPDATE: Some more numbers:

--By our count, Stevens has received 50 disclosed contributions from the leadership PACs of 30 GOP Senate colleagues, including two from Susan Collins. (That number does not include contributions made to him by his own PAC.)

--17 colleagues, including Collins, gave him the maximum allowed contribution of $10,000.

--Among candidates in contested Senate races, only three gave to Stevens in 2008, at a time when the seriousness of the case against him was undeniable: Collins, Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. John Sununu (R-NH).

--For 18 GOP senators, including Sen. Snowe, we can find no evidence of a contribution to Stevens this cycle.

PFAW On The Air

People For the American Way has a new ad and its coming soon to a TV screen near you:



As far as I know, this is the first TV ad all cycle hitting Sen. Collins on judicial nominees.

Collins, Stevens and Jefferson

We're still digging into the details and context of Sen. Collins' peculiarly-timed $5,000 donation to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) earlier this year.

But for comparison, it's worth noting that disgraced Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) appears to have received just three contributions over $2,300 from colleagues during the 2007-8 campaign cycle. And even if you combine them, they don't add up to the $10,000 Collins has funneled to Stevens since last June.

(To be clear: I haven't been able to determine whether the contributions were made to Jefferson before or after his June 8, 2007 indictment.)

Did other GOP colleagues give to Stevens even after evidence of his wrongdoing had become impossible to ignore? Were they as generous as Susan Collins was?

Question of the Day

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has been convicted of seven felonies. But he continues to maintain that he's innocent.

Is Sen. Collins ready to say that he's guilty?

Bipartisan It Ain't

Sen. Collins' June donation to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) underscores just how loyal a Republican the junior senator has been--even at her own ethical peril.

But look at the full list of contributions made by her PAC this cycle:

McCain, John (R) $2,500
Alexander, Lamar (R-TN) $5,000
Barrasso, John A (R-WY) $5,000
Chambliss, Saxby (R-GA) $10,000
Coleman, Norm (R-MN) $10,000
Corker, Bob (R-TN) $5,000
Cornyn, John (R-TX) $5,000
Dole, Elizabeth (R-NC) $10,000
Domenici, Pete V (R-NM) $5,000
Enzi, Mike (R-WY) $5,000
Graham, Lindsey (R-SC) $10,000
Inhofe, James M (R-OK) $10,000
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) $5,000
Roberts, Pat (R-KS) $10,000
Schaffer, Bob (R-CO) $5,000
Sessions, Jeff (R-AL) $7,500
Smith, Gordon H (R-OR) $10,000
Stevens, Ted (R-AK) $10,000
Sununu, John E (R-NH) $10,000
Talent, James M (R-MO) ($1,000)
Biggert, Judy (R-IL) $2,000
Summers, Charles E (R-ME)$5,000
Whitman, Kate (R-NJ) $2,000
Maybe you notice a pattern?

In fact, a quick scan of Collins' entire contribution history reveals not a single contribution to a Democrat .

Which is fine. But it demonstrates, once again, that Susan Collins has been a solid, partisan Republican.

Unlike Sen. Snowe--and even John McCain--she's a reliable GOP team player.

Doubling Down On Stevens

Sen. Collins' willingness, as recently as June, to help bankroll Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) reelection campaign raises important questions.

But first, we need a little context.

In June 2007, when Collins funneled her first $5,000 to Alaska's senior senator, the move was defensible if sketchy: The federal probe of Stevens appeared to be gathering steam. But information about the case had only recently started to trickle out, and many facts still weren't known.

It seemed at least possible, at that point, that he was a peripheral player.

But by June 2008, the investigation was pretty much an open book: By then, we knew that Stevens was being probed by both the FBI and the IRS; that his home had been searched by federal agents; that a Washington grand jury had been looking into his actions for more than a year; and that the key witness against him had publicly admitted to paying for work on Stevens' house.

In short, by June 2008 it was clear that Stevens was in the cross-hairs of a serious multi-agency federal corruption investigation, that the case against him was being pursued vigorously and that the central allegation had been corroborated by a key participant.

Why a lawmaker--let alone one who presents herself as above the fray--would look at this set of facts and respond by doubling her investment in Stevens' candidacy is hard to fathom.

It's the Republican equivalent of sending five grand to Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) after the FBI found $90,000 in his freezer.

So back to the questions:

1. Why Stevens? Why $5,000? What was the contribution meant to accomplish?

2. Why didn't Collins disclose the donation when her financial ties to Stevens were receiving scrutiny back in July--a little more than a month after the donation had been made?

3. Has Collins asked Stevens to return the funds?

4. Has Collins donated to Stevens' legal defense fund, which isn't required to disclose donors until January?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Collins Gave Stevens $5K In June

As we just noted, it's long been common knowledge (if under-reported in the Maine press) that Sen. Collins gave $5000, via her political action committee, to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in June 2007, just as the federal corruption inquiry of Stevens gathered steam.

But we've learned that Collins gave Stevens another $5000 just over four months ago--on June 11.

That donation was disclosed in a campaign finance report subsequent to Stevens' July 29, 2008 indictment. And that probably explains why it's gone unnoticed to this point.

But it's a troubling--and puzzling--transaction that raises fresh questions. We hope to have more on this soon.

Guilty

Remember, Sen. Collins (via her Dirigo PAC) dropped a big contribution on Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) after the Feds had started investigating his shenanigans last year.

(For some context, check out this article, which ran the day before Collins' $5000 donation to Stevens.)

As far as I'm aware and as best as I can recall, this donation has never been discussed or even referenced by any Maine news outlet.

Now, the point isn't that Sen. Collins is a crook or a friend to criminals.

The point is that the junior senator has been such a consummate Republican team player that she was willing to funnel reelection money even to a GOP colleague under federal investigation.

It shows just how important she thinks it is for Republicans to stay in power. And how serious she's been about making it happen.

UPDATE: Back in July, PolitickerME.com, to its credit, did raise the issue of Collins' donation Stevens.

Quote of the Day

From today's edition of The Maine Campus, the student newspaper at the Orono campus of the University of Maine:

We first tried to contact Collins for an interview on Sept. 15. The Collins campaign was elusive and unresponsive, running us through the gauntlet and only once returned our daily or twice daily phone calls. When they finally did respond, they informed us that the senator wouldn't be available for an interview, then later said that maybe we could get an interview but never got back to us.

The University of Maine represents a large community of voters in the 2nd Congressional District. It is in the interest of any candidate running for office to speak to all media outlets and to make their positions known.

While it is understandable that the Sen. Collins is a busy person, it is unfortunate that the woman who bills herself as "our senator" cannot take 20 minutes out of her schedule to directly address the students of the flagship school of the University of Maine System.

How To Swing An Election

Step 1: Offer sporadic coverage that focuses on personality and labels. Don't profile the candidates. Don't explore their records and positions at any length or in any depth.

Step 2: Endorse the candidate whose views line up less well with voters. Do this without citing her record or positions on the major issues of the day.

Step 3: In your news pages, marvel at how your candidate has managed to avoid the kind of voter scrutiny--and disapproval--on national issues that is hurting other members of her party.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Question of the Day

What would Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have to do for Sen. Collins to resign her position with his presidential campaign?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Breaking With McCain

It's really not that hard.

If Sen. Collins can't bring herself to sever ties with the most polarizing presidential campaign in 30 years while she's up for reelection, what hope is there that she'll take sides against GOP thugs once she's won a fresh term in office?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Here a Crook, There A Crook

I don't mean to pick on Kevin Wack. He's done some very solid reporting on the Allen-Collins race.

But I think his assumption here--that Sen. Collins will unload the campaign contribution she's received from the guy who runs Sen. John McCain's robocall firm--is misplaced.

Remember, it took till July, and an indictment, for Collins to dump a contribution from Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). Even though he'd been under investigation for more than a year.

In fact, just as that investigation gathered steam, she sent him a big chunk of change.

What's more, as far as I know, she hasn't given back this $1,000 contribution from this guy. (More on Petters here.)

The lesson seems to be that the junior senator unloads contributions from supporters when they come under indictment. Sometimes.

Insurance

The Maine Race is surprised that groups like Pharma and the Chamber of Commerce are on the air supporting Sen. Collins on the issue of health care.

But it makes perfect sense: These groups fervently oppose the kind of comprehensive reform that would have the effect of reining in drug costs and insurance industry profits.

And Susan Collins, if elected, is certain to be on the side of those working to frustrate and weaken any universal health care plan that gets taken up in 2009.

The Maine press refuses to talk about it. And so most Mainers don't fully grasp it. But it really is that simple.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Trifecta

First of all: Wow.

A debate run by grown-ups? Journalists who ask informed questions? What a novelty.

Also impressive that within sixty minutes, Sen. Collins found time to associate herself with President Bush, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK).

Will Vice President Cheney's feelings be hurt?

More seriously: It's remarkable to see how the dynamic between the two candidates shifts when they face serious, probing questions. And when the format is designed to extract information about their positions and records.

It's as if Collins and Rep. Allen took a one-hour vacation from the lethargic, center-right Maine media landscape they've spent the last year mired inside.

Friends In High Places

The McCain camp's tactics get uglier and more polarizing by the day--in Maine and elsewhere. But for a number of reasons, it's still hard to see Sen. Collins cutting her ties to what may be the most divisive presidential campaign in 30 years.

Yet another reason: Her campaign is being funded by the same people.

Collins Flashback: We Need McCain



Notice the Rev. Wright dig right at the top. It's not the only shot Sen. Collins takes at Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

She also accuses Democrats of, "reaping only division."

Watching the speech, you get the sense that there's a feisty GOP attack dog somewhere inside the junior senator just waiting to break loose.

It really is worth watching the whole thing.

New Poll: Collins +12 (?)

According to WMTW:

A new [Critical Insights] poll indicates Republican Sen. Susan Collins has a 12-point lead over Democratic Rep. Tom Allen in her re-election bid.
The margin of error is five percent, which puts it on the high side.

Not clear if those numbers refer to likely voters or registered voters--previous polls from Critical Insights have broken out numbers for both.

We'll see what we can find out.

UPDATE: We're hearing that this survey suffers from some of the same shortcomings that marred the last Critical Insights poll.

Specifically, we're hearing that it overweights Democrats, underweights independents, overweights older voters and dramatically underweights young voters.

All in all, it doesn't inspire much confidence.

Still, the Critical Insights numbers have been toward the middle of the pack all race long. And it's notable that if you throw out the Pan Atlantic number--as we're inclined to--the last four polls in this race show margins of +10, +13, +11 and +12 in Collins' favor.

Taken together, that seems like pretty strong evidence that Collins is leading outside the margin of error. It suggests that it will take extremely strong Democratic turnout, presidential race coattails and further narrowing for Allen to close the gap.

But in such a volatile, Democrat-friendly electoral climate, that remains a live possibility. (Which is why the Collins camp continues to pump out the distortions.)

Quote of the Day

McCain New England campaign manager Jim Barnett, yesterday on the WVOM morning show:

[Sen.] Collins has been an outstanding supporter of Senator McCain. And on the big issues, they are very much in collaboration and they're very much similar types of Republicans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Accountability Moment

Elections are about the future. Or so the adage goes.

But elections are also referendums on the performance of the incumbent. They're opportunities to hold officials accountable for their actions.

And Sen. Collins' has a lot to account for.

Because the contract Susan Collins has always had with Maine--the deal she struck with voters in 1996 and 2002--was that she would be an independent voice and a centrist. She presented herself as a problem-solver with little regard for party loyalty or hard-right Republican ideology.

And she was elected twice on that basis.

So when President Bush took office in 2001, it was dispiriting when Collins broke with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and most Democrats to vote for the President's unaffordable 2001 tax cut package slanted toward the rich. And it was troubling when she supported the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq even as questions were being raised about the seriousness of the threat.

But on Election Day in 2002, those immoderate votes didn't yet form a pattern. Collins could still plausibly argue that she'd done her best to act as a free agent.

Yet as we moved into 2003 and 2004 and 2005--as the Iraq war went off the rails, the Katrina disaster unfolded, deficits piled up, our international standing plummeted and the Bush administration ceded itself more and more power--we desperately needed leadership from sensible, independent-thinking Republicans.

In that moment of crisis, it was crucial for patriots of all political stripes to demand competence from the Bush administration. To stand up to its abuses. And to insist that the government live within its means.

As crisis struck, the country needed Susan Collins.

And as events unfolded, many of us were convinced she'd do the right thing. Sure, we doubted the sincerity of some of her bipartisan rhetoric. Yes, we thought she leaned further to the right than she generally let on.

But we believed that Collins was a straight-shooter and her own women.

We grouped her with Sen. Snowe, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and a few others: Clear-headed Republicans who, when push came to shove, seemed more concerned with the public good than protecting their party's standard-bearer.

We took it for granted that she'd recognize the high stakes and stand up to the bullies in the GOP.

Because we thought of Susan Collins, at her core, as one of the good guys.

And so the fundamental choice Collins made during those dark days--to stand with President Bush rather than challenge him, to ratify his choices rather than oppose them--came as a shock.

As the country drifted toward illiberalism, geopolitical humiliation and financial ruin, we were simply stunned that Susan Collins' practical, non-ideological voice was nowhere to be found.

Instead, Collins seemed to double-down on her early support for the administration: She voted for two successive rounds of tax cuts for the rich, backed the administration down the line on Iraq and even refused entreaties from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to hold hearings about the administration's corrupt, costly and deadly Iraq contracting practices.

Meanwhile, she supported the President's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, backed granting retroactive legal immunity to phone companies who spied on their customers and voted in favor of the President's unconstitutional plan to obliterate the 800 year old right of habeas corpus, a foundational principle of Western law.

The upshot of these actions was a poorer, weaker country with less respect for the rule of law and less respect from its allies.

The result was an America with debilitated legal safeguards and an out-of-control executive branch--a nation a couple of giant steps down the road to becoming something other than a democratic republic.

And make no mistake: These things happened precisely because people like Susan Collins faded into the background: They happened because so many of the "good guys" sat on their hands, choosing accommodation and self-interest over the bold leadership that the moment required.

The absence of moderating influences left that the Bush administration free to use polarization and fear to implement its reactionary agenda.

And even as that agenda careened out of control--with corruption alone costing tens of billions of dollars and, yes, American lives--Collins still refused to speak up. Instead, she enabled. Given the quintessential opportunity to play a centrist role, she opted instead to be part of the cover up.

In short, when her country needed her most, Collins sloughed off her moderate persona. She shelved it--under the theory, presumably, that she'd be able to reclaim it at some later point.

And that point has now arrived.

Look: It's true that Maine voters need to consider carefully where both candidates want to take America.

But it's also inescapably true that if Mainers send Susan Collins back for a third term after she's forfeited her moderate credentials and failed the test of the last eight years, they will be sending a message to future candidates that commitments don't matter--that branding trumps all.

Maine will be saying that fecklessness in the face of disaster is tolerable. And that helping to advance the most destructive policies in a generation is forgivable.

Finally, reelection would send the message to Susan Collins that she can get away with pretty much anything.

And with the country in deep trouble because of the mistakes of public officials, that's an awfully dangerous message to send.

Pan Atlantic: Collins +21

As expected, Pan Atlantic SMS produces a result that puts Collins ahead by a margin larger than anything we've seen in a while:

Rep. Tom Allen (D): 36 (31)

Sen. Susan Collins (R): 57 (56)

The numbers in parenthesis refer to Pan Atlantic results released in July. And that's actually the last time we saw a margin this large.

To put it in perspective: Except for a single Republican poll released in March, Pan Atlantic is the only pollster to put Collins up by 20 points even one time this year.

The company doesn't release its internals. But the poll also shows Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) doing better in CD-02 than CD-01. And I don't think anyone (including other pollsters) expect things to turn out that way. So make of that what you will.

Look: Pan Atlantic may be on the money. But if they are, it means just about everyone else has it wrong. Very wrong.

New Poll: Collins +11

Via Maine Politics, Survey USA is out with a new poll that has Sen. Collins up 11 points:

Tom Allen (D): 43 (39) (38)

Susan Collins (R-inc): 54 (55) (55)

Numbers in parenthesis represent results from a Survey USA poll conducted September 22-23.

UPDATE: The internals here make a lot more sense than the ones from SurveyUSA's last poll. Still, it's hard to get invested in results that feature a staggering 47 point swing among voters in the 18-34 demographic in less than a month.

That kind of thing pretty much demands an explanation.

In any event, evidence is clearly accumulating--from this poll, from the Research 2000 poll and from the early-October Rasmussen number--that Allen has closed the gap with Collins by something in the neighborhood of five points since September.

What we don't know is how big the gap was when the narrowing began.

As Maine Politics notes, one of the few places Allen leads is with Mainers who have already voted. That's probably to be expected, due to the Dems superior turnout operation.

But if I was in the Collins camp, it would scare the bejesus out of me just the same.

Finally, Mike tells us that Pan Atlantic SMS will have a poll out later today. Their last survey had some odd aspects. And it produced the biggest lead for Collins we've seen all year.

So it probably doesn't make sense to take those numbers too seriously.

Fibbing On The Sly

Now we know why Sen. Collins' campaign hasn't posted its latest TV ad to her campaign website: It's premised on distortions and misrepresentations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Integrity

There's has actually been some coverage this morning of Sen. Collins' sticky predicament regarding the McCain campaign's robocalls.

But there are nuances here--and unspoken assumptions--that need to be brought to the surface.

Namely: In most races, a candidate's refusal to break with a colleague engaged in deplorable tactics would be notable but not significant. It would be a blip on the radar. And the reporting so far has looked at Susan Collins' dilemma through that lens.

But here's the thing: Collins hasn't been running a normal campaign. Unlike just about every other candidate in the country, she's running not on an issue-based platform but instead on a vow to elevate the tone in Washington and put an end to the bitter partisanship that's been plaguing the city.

So the way she handles the McCain campaign's smears tests the fundamental premise of her campaign.

After all, if partisan rancor is really the central problem in our political system, how can Collins continue to support--and work on behalf of--a candidate who she concedes is working to make that problem worse? And who refuses to rein in the gutter tactics even after she's stressed to him how destructive they are?

If bitter partisanship is the chief obstacle to progress in Washington, isn't it incumbent on Collins to not just call out those who stubbornly cling to bitterness but to break with them?

In short, Collins' refusal, thus far, to cut McCain lose isn't just garden variety hypocrisy. (It's not, for example, the kind of hypocrisy evidenced by her decision to break her two-term pledge.)

This is hypocrisy that cuts to the core of her political identity and the case she's made for reelection.

And that makes it at least potentially explosive.

Which is why the Collins camp isn't returning phone calls.

McCain On WCSH: "I'm Proud"

In a local news interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had a chance to walk back his support for robocalls--and to help get Sen. Collins out of the box she's put herself in. But instead, he's standing firm:


Collins: Not Returning Calls

Sen. Collins, who has said that the McCain campaign's slimy tactics "have no place in Maine" apparently doesn't want to talk about her next step, now that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has swatted away her request that he stop the smears:

The Collins campaign did not return several phone calls seeking comment Monday.
Will the junior senator get away with this? Will the cowardly Maine media let her?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Photo of the Day


(We've added a larger version of this snapshot to the Collins Watch Flickr pool.)

Question of the Day

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bernanke is now joining Democrats in calling for a new fiscal stimulus package.

I wonder: What percentage of Mainers understand that Sen. Collins' entire history suggests that, when the stimulus comes up for debate, the junior senator will be pushing to reduce the amount of money going to average Americans and to increase the share that goes to businesses and the wealthy?

Maine Spending In Context

The Maine Race has up a good post about DSCC spending in Maine, and how it compares to what the committee is doing in other states.

Interesting to know that the Democrats are spending as much money per capita in Maine ($.57) as they are Minnesota--but that there's eight times as much cash per capita flooding into New Hampshire.

Of course, as the post mentions, part of New Hampshire is in the (expensive) Boston media market.

The impression you get is that if the DSCC came to believe the Allen-Collins race was narrowing, it would be very easy for the folks in D.C. to step up the financial commitment.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain to Collins: Buzz Off

This morning on Fox News:



Here's the transcript:

WALLACE: The Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the co-chair of your campaign in Maine, has asked you to stop the robocalls. Will you do that?

McCAIN: Of course not.
It's instructive to watch Sen. McCain's expression as he dismisses Collins' suggestion out of hand. Clearly, he doesn't take it too seriously.

So we've now learned two things we didn't know when we woke up this morning:

1. Despite being state co-chair and "an original member of McCain's 2008 campaign kitchen cabinet," Collins apparently doesn't have enough juice with McCain to get him to clean up his act. Or even to keep his slimy tactics out of Maine.

2. Until we hear differently, the obvious upshot is that Collins is willing to support and work to re-elect a candidate who engages in tactics that, by her own admission, "have no place in Maine politics."

Remember this is a woman who thinks that the central problem with Washington is the rancorous tone.

UPDATE: Here's the transcript. You'll note that McCain never engages the substance of Collins' request. He swats it away, rejecting it as ludicrous, and then leaves it at that.

Closing Arguments?

Rep. Allen faces the camera and delivers what sounds like his closing argument: He links Sen. Collins to President Bush while embracing Democratic solutions on the economy and Iraq.

One gets the sense that Susan Collins and her allies have an ad or two in the can that they haven't yet released.

In these last 18 days, it will be interesting to see if the junior senator pivots, even slightly, from her issue-skirting, bipartisanship-trumps-all message to something a bit more substantive.

What If McCain Doesn't Listen?

The Nation weighs in:

Doesn't [Sen. Collins] need to speak up, forcefully and in detail about why the McCain campaign's tactics are wrong? Doesn't she need to take her party's nominee to task and say, as Margaret Chase Smith did more than half a century ago: "I don't want to see the Republican Party win that way."

And what if McCain does not listen to Collins? What if he and his campaign refuse to halt not just the robo calls but related smear tactics against Obama, who happens to be a colleague of the Maine senator?

If McCain refuses to right the course of his McCarthy-like campaign, shouldn't Collins quit as his campaign co-chair for Maine?

After all, if McCain won't take her counsel, doesn't that defeat the purpose of being a campaign co-chair?

[...]

If Collins fails to rise to this challenge, Maine voters face a challenge of their own: deciding whether to reelect a senator who talks a good game but does not link her words to actions.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Poll: Collins+13

From Research 2000:

Rep. Tom Allen (D): 40 (38) (34)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-inc): 53 (57) (56)

The poll, in the field from October 14-15, was commissioned by Daily Kos. (But Research 2000 is a non-partisan pollster.) The numbers in parenthesis refer to polls from the same firm conducted September 8-10, 2008 and October 15-17, 2007, respectively.

UPDATE: As much as I respect Kos' knowledge and judgment when it comes to elections, I don't share his inference that these results come close to sealing the deal for Collins. And I'm pretty confident they're not doing victory dances at Collins HQ. There are three reasons.

1. The previous Research 2000 poll gave Collins a 19 point lead--six points more than the Rasmussen result from the same time frame. It was the largest lead any survey had produced for Collins in months, even taking into account a Survey USA poll in which 18-34 year-old respondents tilted overwhelmingly (and unrealistically) toward Collins.

Now, maybe Research 2000 is dead-on. But their work could also be an outlier. And if that's true, the new poll's trend--a six point smaller advantage than last time for Collins--suggests that her lead may actually be in the high single digits.

Hence the recent Collins +10 results from Rasmussen and the eight point lead found by the Mellman Group.

All things being equal, I'm inclined to trust Research 2000 over the DSCC-sponsored poll from Mellman. But the fact that no one else duplicated the 19 point spread found in Research 2000's September poll raises real doubts.

2. When you dig into the data, you learn that Collins builds her lead by earning the support of 32% of Democrats and 48% of CD-01 voters.

Both of those numbers are plausible. But the 32% figure among Democrats is much higher than what we saw in either the most recent Rasmussen survey or the Collins-friendly result from SurveyUSA.

That Survey USA poll also showed a mere four point spread between the performance of the candidates in CD-01 and CD-02. The Research 2000 poll shows an 18 point spread.

Clearly, someone is wrong here. But it will take more polling to find out who.

3. The poll appears to assume equal turnout in both congressional districts.

I don't have the time to look into this now, but my sense is that, historically, CD-01 has generated higher turnout. And in this election in particular, my assumption has always been that many more voters will go to the polls in CD-01 than in CD-02.

Bottom line: No one who thought this race was up for grabs yesterday has reason to think the result is a foregone conclusion today.

In most years--in a less volatile political climate in which there were fewer question marks--even a narrowing outside-the-margin-of-error lead 19 days before an election would be enough to make an incumbent feel safe.

But this isn't most years.

Below The Radar

In addition to her false and misleading radio ad, Sen. Collins apparently has up two TV ads that she's neglected to post to her website.

Anyone want to fill us in on what she's trying to hide?

Rhetorical Distance


Sen. Collins' decision to bemoan the McCain campaign's ugly tactics is of a piece with her political strategy over the last eight years. It's vintage Susan Collins.

Consider: The stunt costs her nothing. It compromises nothing in the way of her conservative ideology. And it puts no new distance between her and the McCain agenda.

And yet (if the Maine media is dumb enough to swallow it) it allows her to frame herself as a moderate to middle-of-the-road voters.

But think about what it means.

Two years into a campaign from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) full of irresponsible statements and troubling proposals, the one issue Collins has chosen to separate herself from him on has to do with tactics.

Not McCain's economic policy. Not his Iraq policy. Not his plan to tax health insurance benefits. Collins doesn't seem to have much problem with the substance of McCain's plans for America.

She just wants him to give them a softer sales pitch.

Collins on McCain's Dirty Campaign


Here's Sen. Collins talking about the latest nonsense from the McCain campaign:

"This kind of campaign [robo]call does not reflect the kind of leader that [McCain] is."
The idea seems to be that the ugly tactics Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has resorted to are beneath him.

And yet he's resorted to them just the same.

Look: It's interesting (and convenient) for Collins to try to put some daylight between herself and the McCain campaign less than three weeks before Election Day--just as her own race seems to tighten.

But at what point does Sen. Collins conclude that McCain and Gov. Sarah "great choice" Palin (R-AK) are part of the problem rather than the solution?

I mean, if "partisan rancor" is the single biggest problem in Washington today, why does Susan Collins continue to work to elect a Republican ticket that's waged one of the most bitter, negative and resentment-filled campaigns in recent memory?

Friday, October 17, 2008

WGME Debate Highlights

You can watch the full debate here.

A couple of notable moments, aside from Collins' flip-flop on the Iraq surge:

At 8:27: Rep. Allen says, "[Collins] said that the President didn't manage the war well. But the truth is that Senator Collins didn't manage the war well either."

At 23:50: Allen's answer on taxes was about as cogent an argument for his position as anyone is likely to squeeze into a two-minute debate format.

Collins Flip-Flops on Surge

At this week's WGME debate, Sen. Collins called General Petraeus' surge strategy the "right strategy" for Iraq.

At 7:08:



Not sure I've heard that language before. And, of course, Collins nominally opposed the troop surge last year.

If you're not sufficiently confused yet, it's worth revisiting this video from a committee hearing on September 11, 2007 in which Collins questioned Petraeus:



It's not clear how much political progress Collins thinks Iraq has made over the last thirteen months. But the clear implication of her question is that she believed the absence of "significant political progress" by September 2008 would militate in favor of withdrawal.

And yet here we are in October and she still supports an indefinite occupation.

Who woulda thunk it?

WGME Debate

Maine Politics posts this news story on the WGME debate, which took place earlier this week:



We still haven't seen the full debate--still trying to track down video.

Where Is This Race?

Granted, my rolodex isn't exactly huge. But when I talk to smart people about this race, I'm struck by how little confidence they have about where it stands.

Don't get me wrong: Everyone thinks Sen. Collins is leading. Some think the margin is smaller and some think it's larger.

But the opinions of the careful observers I talk to aren't firm. And to a degree you wouldn't normally expect less than three weeks out, there's a reluctance to venture predictions.

There are two key reasons:

1. The financial crisis and looming recession: It shakes up the race and plays into Rep. Allen's narrative. But since a Wall Street meltdown just weeks before Election Day puts us in virtually uncharted territory, to what extent it boosts Allen is hard to predict.

2. Turnout: Everyone agrees that Republicans are dispirited about the campaign Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has run--and that they're dispirited in general.

And everyone believes that Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) ground game will be very strong--and that it's being supplemented effectively by the Maine Dems.

But will this lead to a once-in-a-generation turnout surge? Or just a modest increase? Will young voters and new voters come out in unprecedented numbers? Or is it mostly hype?

This is the real wild card in the Allen-Collins race. And I suspect it's a topic we won't have much insight into until the polls open.