Saturday, May 31, 2008

Middle School Priorities

Sen. Collins will find time this Friday night to attend the Hodgkins Middle School band concert.

But five years into a bloody, expensive, disastrously-misconceived war and occupation that she helped set in motion and continues to support, it's been more than twelve months--at least as far as we can tell--and possibly much longer since the junior senator has stood before adult Mainers in an open forum.

More on Collins' preference for middle schoolers over voters here and here.

Friday, May 30, 2008


Facing an electoral drubbing, Republicans are now questioning the accuracy of Rasmussen polls, pointing out that they're automated--conducted via robocall rather than live interview.

As Kos notes, however, automated polls have a pretty good track record as of late.

I don't know enough to have a dog in this fight. But for what it's worth, my gut tells me that the ten point margin in the most recent Rasmussen survey, if anything understates Sen. Collins' advantage.

And so her lead seems more likely to expand than contract in the next survey.

But that's just one guy's gut. We'll have to wait and see.

And Now the Dems

Gerald will be blogging from the Democratic Convention in Augusta today and tomorrow.

Expect coverage at as well.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Aside: NARAL

NARAL's poorly-timed endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) over Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) earlier this month is exactly the kind of dubious, self-defeating interest group action we counseled against here.

But it's the kind of move that could be repeated in Maine.

To recap: Having made the (correct) judgment months ago that Obama and Clinton were equally strong on abortion rights and related issues, NARAL had no reason to abandon its neutrality while the nomination was still up for grabs--at least no reason related to its mission.

What's more, the endorsement divided abortion rights advocates--as you would have had to expect.

So why go ahead with it at all? Why not wait for Obama to wrap up the nomination and then endorse, in a way that unites Democrats and brings pro-Clinton pro-choicers into the fold?

If you're thinking strictly about advancing the organization's mission, it's not at all clear. If anything, the endorsement looks counterproductive.

So clearly, something else factored in.

And you don't have to be a callous cynic or a political insider to realize that while the cause gains nothing from the endorsement, NARAL as an organization very well might: Increased access to the Obama campaign; perceived clout and influence with Obama's inner circle; entree with Obama donors; etc.

In short, it's not hard to see how a few folks daydreaming about jobs in an Obama administration might be looking for ways to get on the campaign's good side--and as soon as possible. And it's not hard to see how the organization's leadership might salivate at the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the Obama camp's 1.5 million donors.

Interest group endorsements aren't supposed to work that way. They're not supposed to be about power games and parochial agendas.

Still, it's not hard to see how that kind of thinking could infect the decision-making process.

NARAL and groups like it present themselves as grassroots, mission-based organizations. But that doesn't mean they're always run that way.

And that's something worth keeping in mind when it comes to interest group endorsements and the Maine senate race.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer of Sam?

As promised, we'll be turning our focus to Justice Samuel Alito with some frequency in the weeks and months ahead: We'll dig into his record as a Circuit Court judge and his opinions on the Supreme Court; and we'll look back at his confirmation hearings, and at the politics of the confirmation vote itself.

But to begin, I want to lay out the basic facts of his nomination--as seen through the eyes of the Maine press as it unfolded--and Sen. Collins' role in it.

There will be details to fill in later. But hopefully this is a good starting point for discussion. If you notice any important gaps, please let us know.

--November 1, 2005. Sen. Collins reacts to the October 31 nomination announcement, telling the Morning Sentinel she's not familiar with Alito's record but that: "My number one criterion is that the person have excellent credentials and appropriate judicial philosophy and unquestioned integrity."

Queried about Alito's role as the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which "struck down a Pennsylvania law requiring women seeking abortions to notify their spouses," Collins tells the paper that she wants to read the opinion and discuss it with Alito.

The article notes: "Collins said she would not judge Alito on his position on abortion alone."

--November 2. A Portland Press Herald story names the Alliance for Justice and Planned Parenthood as organizations criticizing Alito's record.

--November 17. Alito's 1985 job application to the Justice Department, "in which he said the Constitution doesn't protect the right to abortion" is examined on the front page of the PPH.

--December 13. Collins remains undecided on the nomination after having met with Alito, according to the PPH. A Collins spokesman tells the paper that the junior senator is waiting for the confirmation hearings to make up her mind.

--December 20. Bangor Daily News covers local opposition to the nomination.

Maureen Drouin of the Maine Sierra Club tells the paper that Alito's rulings have been persistently detrimental to clean water and public health.

Nicole Clegg of the Family Planning Association of Maine is quoted as worrying that Alito will uphold laws such that, "access to safe, legal abortions will be an impossibility for millions of women."

Andy Cadot of Maine Lawyers for Democracy argues to BDN that, "[Alito's] decisions are driven by his own personal ideology, which favors corporations and big government...That places him to the far right of even conservative justices now on the Supreme Court."

--January 6, 2006. With confirmation hearings about to start, NPR notes that Sen. Snowe and Collins, "are two of just a few pro-choice Republican senators whose votes are considered to be up for grabs."

--January 15. PPH reports that Collins remains undecided on Alito, but will not support a filibuster of his nomination.

In the same article, Chris Quint of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is quoted as saying, "Judge Alito cannot hide from his consistent pattern of decisions as a judge and a clearly stated legal philosophy that will put Maine people's right to privacy at risk."

Nicole Clegg of Family Planning Association of Maine charges, "Alito's claims of respecting precedent and privacy rights don't square with his 15-year record as a judge and even longer career as a government lawyer."

--January 27. Collins says she will vote in favor of Alito, PPH reports.

"Based on the record before me, I believe Judge Alito will be a justice who will exercise his judicial duties guided not by personal views, but based on what the facts, the law and the Constitution command," the junior senator is quoted as having written.

The article goes on to acknowledge opposition from 40 Maine advocacy groups, mentioning the National Organization of Women, the AFL-CIO and the National Environmental Trust as examples.

Maine Women's Lobby Executive Director Sarah Standiford laments, "Now was the time for Senator Collins to stand by her pro-choice values and stand by Maine people, and she failed."

--February 1. Collins joins 57 colleagues to confirm Alito 58-42. Four Democrats support the nomination while one Republican--Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)-- votes against.

Jonathan Crasnick, director of Democracy Maine, tells the PPH that Collins and Snowe are more conservative than they often let on: "They get all this praise for being moderate, but time after time for judicial confirmations and other issues, they follow the Bush administration's agenda."

Collins counters to the paper that, "Even a cursory review of my voting record demonstrates that I stand tall for what I believe in, that I reflect the views of the majority of Mainers and that I vote in a very moderate way."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

Ron Kaufman, former senior adviser to the Romney presidential campaign:

I think any Republican who doesn’t say panic is in the wind is lying through their shirt.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Blade Endorses Allen

The New England Blade (which describes itself as, "New England’s premier gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender newspaper") endorses Rep. Allen:

Just in the past years, [Sen. Collins] has become what some have labeled a leader in her party on GLBT issues. She was a lead co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and she is rumored to be considering a similar role in obliterating the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule and replacing it with a non-discrimination policy.

Many in the GLBT community view Collins as a key ally in the Senate...

Getting Collins to this point has not been easy: she refused to publicly support or oppose the 2005 referendum in Maine that sought to keep an anti-discrimination law on the books, and it was only after months and months of arm twisting that she made an overture suggesting that she might take a closer look at "Don't ask, don't tell."
Having a Republican ally in the Senate on GLBT issues has merit, and Collins carries a big stick.

In contrast, while Allen lacks the bravado of Collins, he is crystal clear on where he stands on all issues affecting the GLBT community and their families. In times of crisis, and we believe that DADT, ENDA, and any effort to undermine laws that are aimed to protect the GLBT community are clear and present danger, it is wiser to elect a lawmaker who doesn't require cajoling.

Little and Late

If you're wondering what all the fuss is about Sen. Collins' failure to probe Iraq war contracting, this story in today's New York Times will give you a hint:

A Pentagon audit of $8.2 billion in American taxpayer money spent by the United States Army on contractors in Iraq has found that almost none of the payments followed federal rules and that in some cases, contracts worth millions of dollars were paid for despite little or no record of what, if anything, was received.

The audit also found a sometimes stunning lack of accountability in the way the United States military spent some $1.8 billion in seized or frozen Iraqi assets, which in the early phases of the conflict were often doled out in stacks or pallets of cash. The audit was released Thursday in tandem with a Congressional hearing on the payments.

In one case, according to documents displayed by Pentagon auditors at the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a cash payment of $320.8 million in Iraqi money was authorized on the basis of a single signature and the words “Iraqi Salary Payment” on an invoice. In another, $11.1 million of taxpayer money was paid to IAP, an American contractor, on the basis of a voucher with no indication of what was delivered.
This is the kind of thing we would have been better of knowing in 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005.

BDN Tackles the Farm Bill

The BDN editorial board weighs in on the Farm Bill this morning, and their piece makes a lot more sense than PPH's take on the bill.

My only real beef with it comes here:

[Collins] added that, while she supported increased funding for food stamps and other nutrition and conservation provisions, as well as increased federal oversight to prevent manipulation of electronic energy markets, "as a whole, this farm bill represents wasteful spending and the wrong priorities."
BDN cites these statements approvingly.

But in the context of the junior senator's record, it's important to ask what exactly she means when she says she "supports" a goal or idea--in this case food stamps and conservation.

After all, when you consider the fact that she's voted for $1 trillion in tax cuts tilted toward the super-rich and an Iraq policy that'll ultimately cost at least another trillion, it's curious that $43 billion in farm pork is where she draws the line.

And it's notable that she's willing to sacrifice $200 billion in food aid on the altar of fiscal prudence after she spent literally years turning back please to investigate--and help end--the expensive and deadly waste, fraud and corruption in Iraq war contracting.

So yes: Collins may "support" food stamps and conservation programs. But she supports them the same way I support cleaning my room. It's something I'd like to see accomplished. But it's not exactly high on my list.

As is often the case with Sen. Collins, the problem isn't so much what she thinks. (Or "thinks.") It's what she's willing to do about what she thinks.

And when it comes to putting the needs of Mainers ahead of the priorities of her President, she hasn't been willing to do nearly enough.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Passing The Hat

Do you value the analysis and reporting we've been providing here? Think it serves as a corrective to the less-than-vigorous, rarely-substantive coverage Sen. Collins receives in the media?

Then please consider visiting our tip jar--in the form of the 'Donate' button at right.

Caveats, explanations and self-congratulation here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cut and Paste

Talk about press release journalism. Egads.

But compare it to the same reporter's take on Rep. Allen's speech in Bangor, which positively brims with context, some of it gratuitous.

At times, I've accused BDN of being lazy. But I think this is something else.


It's still too early to know all the ins and outs of the Collins camp's strategy for the fall. But one of their key assumptions would appear to be that Mainers can't count.

Consider Sen. Collins' response to questions from Bangor Daily News about paying off the national debt:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that if the full Congress approves the effort she has pushed in the Senate Armed Services Committee to require the Iraqi government to pay for a greater share of the costs of the war, it will be a significant savings.

"This will save billions of dollars as we shift costs," she said. "They are seeing a huge windfall as oil prices have soared, and they should pay more of the costs."

But, Collins said, that is only part of the solution. She said the Farm Bill, which passed last week over her objections, includes "billions" in subsidies to farmers, in some cases, to not grow food.

"We cannot continue these subsidies that are causing food shortages," she said. "It just does not make any sense."
So, let's review how Collins intends to close the gap.

As the article mentions, the debt currently stands at $9.2 trillion.

The "effort" on Iraq funding Collins cites amounts to blocking future reconstruction dollars and making the Iraqis pay for their own equipment and training. I haven't seen anyone attach a number to this plan, but let's be optimistic and put the savings at $10 billion.

The farm bill subsidies which she mentions are a clearer case: They'll cost $43 billion over five years.

So, add Collins' proposals together and we're talking about $53 billion in savings. Remember, the national debt is more than $9 trillion. Anyone else see what's going on here?

In short, the junior senator hasn't even scratched the surface of the problem.

(Can you imagine what would happen if--at a meeting with a loan officer--you boasted about your great progress in paying off your $10,000 debt by pointing to the $58 you'd been able to scrape together?)

What's more, Collins voted for the Iraq war--which is on the way to costing well over $1 trillion; she's consistently voted to fund that war to the tune of $12 billion per month; and consistently voted against a mandated withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Collins voted for each of President Bush's fiscally reckless tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, at a total cost of well over $1 trillion.

In sum, after voting for policies that will add more than $2 trillion in debt, the junior senator wants to undo the damage by slashing a minuscule fraction of that amount, even as she supports policies that send the debt ever higher.

To call the junior senator's answer to the debt question "ridiculous" doesn't get anywhere near conveying the magnitude of its absurdity.

Of course, this is where a vigorous press enters the equation--where careful, well-researched reporting is vitally necessary to keeping readers informed. But the BDN just slaps the Collins quotes down on the page and leaves it at that. No follow-up questions, no context--nothing.

Lazy, drive-by reporting isn't a problem exclusive to BDN, or to Maine--far from it. But it's especially dangerous--and irresponsible--in the context of a senate race where one candidate is depending on voters buying into an image that has stunningly little to do with her record.

UPDATE: Portland Press Herald gets in on the act with a mathematically-challenged editorial praising Sen. Collins for voting against the Farm Bill.

Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of the legislation. But PPH characterizes it as nearly pure pork, even as it lauds the bill's food aid and conservation provisions.

Here's the thing: Those provisions make up 78 percent of the bill. So it's just plain wrong to assert that, "the real beneficiaries [of the bill] are not Maine residents," given that one in eight Mainers is on food stamps.

Simply put, once you do the math--and realize that Collins' vote against $43 billion in farm subsidies meant opposing five times as much in food aid--PPH's entire argument falls apart.

Monday, May 19, 2008

WGME Follows Up

Little new here, aside from the fact that the station should obviously have found some other B-roll footage to run during its original report.

Can't say I'm surprised, though, that the junior senator's allies are looking for some way to distract from the substance of WGME's story.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

BFPF Checks In

Bangor Foreign Policy Forum explains, via e-mail, why their Monday event with Sen. Collins has been closed to the public:

Nothing has changed outside of the unusually large, yet understandable, number of people expressing an interest in attending Monday's talk. Given that the forum is a 501(c)(3) organization that relies on the dues, contributions, and volunteer work of its members, it is standard policy to give members the opportunity to bring a guest, whether a close family member, friend, or colleague, to each and every event. We use a lecture hall with a maximum capacity of 70 people...

In sum, no speaker, regardless of position or title, plays a role in the format of the talks or has a role in the identities of the guests in attendance. We will gladly allow them to invite guests for obvious reasons (Congressman Allen brought 4 staffers). We made sure that a respectable journalist, Mr. Don Carrigan, moderates both events, and we have set aside time as always for questions and answers. Like the event with Congressman Allen, we have invited the media, including MPBN and their Speaking in Maine lecture series. Hopefully they will broadcast this talk...
Good to know.


Via Andrew Sullivan, here's conservative pundit Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal:

What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn't happen in 2005, and '06, and '07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration--over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government--has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They're stuck...

If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.
When I first started to look closely at Sen. Collins' record, in late 2006, I was struck by how rarely she'd crossed President Bush, especially in major votes.

But her refusal more recently--right up until now--to break decisively with the President and his failed policies: That's been even more surprising.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Collins Event Now Closed

Via e-mail from Peter Fandel, Program Coordinator for Bangor Foreign Policy Forum:

Thank you all for contacting the Bangor Foreign Policy Forum regarding the talk on May 19th by Senator Susan Collins. Due to the overwhelming response for this event, we will be unable to seat those who are not either members of the forum or
invited guests of members. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience but hope you can join us at a future event.

As regular readers know, as far as we can tell Sen. Collins hasn't appeared before adult Mainers in a free, public forum for well over a year.

So this event seemed like an exceedingly rare opportunity to hear from the junior senator, and maybe even pose a question. And last we heard, seating for non-members was going to be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

So what changed? We'll see if we can find out.

UPDATE: It's worth remembering that this event--now a strictly private affair--is being held at the Bangor Public Library.

No Soup For You

I'll be the first to admit that the farm bill includes some dubious provisions. But keep in mind, two-thirds of the funds allocated in it are for emergency food assistance and food stamps, which are used by one in eight Mainers.

What's more, Sen. Snowe--who joined Rep. Allen and Rep. Michaud to vote in favor of the bill--is calling the legislation, "essential to Maine's various industries."

So why did Sen. Collins vote against it?

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Poll: 10 Points

The folks at Swing State Project spot Rasmussen's new poll on the Allen-Collins race:

Tom Allen (D): 42 (38)

Susan Collins (R-inc): 52 (54)

April's numbers, which gave Collins a 16 point advantage, are in parenthesis.

Rep. Allen and Sen. Collins are now tied among independents.

UPDATE: Most of the Rasmussen data is subscription-only. But here are a couple of tidbits:

--90% of Maine voters believe the nation is heading down the wrong track.

--In the presidential contest, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) leads Sen. John McCain by 13 points.

More Contracting (Collins Version 3.0)

As chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, Sen. Collins was better positioned than anyone else in government to investigate--and help reform--our dangerous, corrupt and expensive war procurement practices. But for years she did nothing.

In January, the junior senator defended her inaction by claiming that she didn't want to duplicate work being done elsewhere.

Then in February the story changed--a spokesman argued that pleas for oversight dating back to 2003 were a sham, a partisan effort by a single committee Democrat to score political points.

Since that's been disproved, Collins seems to have moved on to a third set of justifications: Hearings themselves are nothing more than political theatre. And, by the way, she's shocked and appalled to be criticized about something so serious.

Two responses.

First, if hearings are as useless as Collins makes them sounds, why did she hold so many of them during her tenure as committee chair? Was it all about scoring political points and political theatre?

Second, on the junior senator's shock and dismay: No one responsible for this kind of garbage is in the position to play the "appalled" card. Please.

Four Years

WGME covers the Iraq war contracting story:

The piece is laudable in a number of respects--it manages to cram a lot of facts into five minutes. And it provides more context than I can remember any of the Maine papers giving readers.

But it does leave a couple of misleading impressions, if only due to time constraints:

1. Hearings aren't just a chance to shame corporate bigwigs on TV (as the voice over implies) or an opportunity for political theatre.

When done right, oversight committees use subpoena power and public testimony to uncover hidden truths and spur action.

In this case, aggressive investigation would have shed light on the scope and seriousness of the war contracting problem. (And it was deadly serious.) Contractors would have scrambled to reform their conduct and the Bush administration would have felt pressure to keep them in line. National outrage would have followed and--almost certainly--legislation.

But because Sen. Collins sat on her hands, none of that happened. Corrupt practices continued, the news trickled out slowly and our war effort suffered as a result.

2. The junior senator suggests that she chose legislative action over hearings, and the broadcast lets her get away with this characterization. But it's bunk: The bill Collins refers to just after 3:00 wasn't passed until late 2007--just a few months ago. (This fact is mentioned in the report's closing seconds, but it's easy to miss.)

Of course, the calls for hearings--even from Collins ally Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT)--stretched all the way back to 2003. And that's when there was a desperate need for action.

Waiting more than four years--till the President's approval ratings have tanked, at the beginning of your own reelection battle, when the worst damage has already been done--that's not leadership. It's not competence.

It's fecklesesness in the face of disaster.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Monday Monday

Remember, Sen. Collins will be speaking at the Bangor Public Library on May 19 at 7:30am. The event is open to the public.

Not clear if she'll take questions. (I never got an answer.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More on Collins' Dollars

As I've said before, I don't see out of state campaign donations as in any way tainted. And candidates shouldn't be held responsible for all the statements, issue positions or associations of their donors.

So the point of highlighting Sen. Collins' fundraising profile here isn't to suggest she's the tool of nefarious out of state interests or that corporations have bought her support.

It's a question, instead, of hypocrisy. And of priorities.

Let's remember, this is a candidate who has chided critics for using out of state money to question her record while confiding to out of state donors that they're the key to her campaign; who has solicited out of state dollars aggressively with a vile, red meat smear targeted to the hard right Republican base while just this month complaining about how expensive campaigns have become.

All this, and the junior senator is the pulling in three out of every four dollars from outside Maine.

In short: Are you kidding me?

The dissonance is truly something to behold, even for a seasoned, cynical political pro. (The utter lack of interest in the story--at least so far--from the Maine press corps is also pretty remarkable.)

So, that covers hypocrisy.

In terms of priorities: Look, it's not at all shocking that Sen. Collins is getting a ton of corporate PAC money, and I don't think it's because she's a patsy or plant. The truth is far simpler: Collins and corporations have goals in common.

Don't forget: The junior senator voted for all three of President Bush's fiscally reckless tax cuts for the super-rich; supports legal immunity for telecom companies who spied illegally on their customers; voted in favor of activist, business-friendly Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court; and looked the other way as Iraq war contractors bilked American taxpayers out of literally billions of dollars.

To put it plainly: Collins is the corporate world's dream candidate--especially once you adjust for the fact that she represents a blue state.

I'm sure they can't believe their good fortune.

After all, who would have thought that a state with one in eight residents on food stamps would seriously consider reelecting a pol who consistently favors industry over consumers, corporations over citizens and Wall Street over Mainers?

With Collins, business PACs have a good thing going. And they're desperate to keep it going. That's why they shower her with money. And it's why they'll continue to.

Senator From Away Redux has gone live with updated fundraising stats that include the first quarter of 2008.

According to a Center for Responsive Politics staffer, it's possible that some late data may still trickle in. But for now, this new set of numbers should give us a pretty clear idea of where things stand.

The upshot? The junior senator remains vastly more popular with out of state donors than with Mainers, and a darling of business PACs. Check it out:

--Collins continues to draw the overwhelming majority of her funds from out of state: Nearly three of every four dollars she's raised this cycle has come from outside Maine.

--At the beginning of 2008, she'd raised more money in the Washington D.C. region than from any city in Maine. That's still true. But her top five metropolitan areas now include only one Maine city: Portland is sandwiched among D.C., New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

--She's raised $1,347,692 from business PACs, or about 50% more from than she has from all Mainers combined. Rep. Allen, by contrast, has received $78,050 from business PACs.

Anyone in the Maine media think that's a disparity worth at least exploring?

Quote of the Day

Sen. Collins:

"Too much of our tax policy is directed at very large companies," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "For example, there are needless tax subsides for the oil industry."
Well said.

You could be forgiven for concluding that Collins opposed the oil subsidy-laden Energy Policy Act of 2005 which, according to the Sierra Club, "harm[ed] public health, the environment and consumers."

But Collins was for it. (Fellow New Englander Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) and Collins pal Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) both voted against it.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

CNN: Allen Puts Obama Ahead in Supers

Coincidence? Or savvy timing?

Sen. Barack Obama has surpassed Sen. Hillary Clinton in the race for superdelegates, according to CNN's latest count.

Obama on Monday picked up an endorsement from Tom Allen, a Maine representative and U.S. Senate candidate.


With Allen's endorsement, Obama now leads in the race for superdelegates, 274 to Clinton's 273.

Obama on Allen: No One Has Worked Harder

Via press release:

"Tom Allen understands the challenges this country is facing, and no one has worked harder to solve them. He knows that if we're going to bring about the change this country needs, we're going to have to change the way Washington works. That's why he's never been afraid to stand up to the special interests and demand accountability from our leaders.

"Like me, Tom opposed the war in Iraq from the start, and he's been a tireless advocate for ending the war and reshaping our foreign policy to truly make this country safer and more respected. He's fought for tax cuts for the middle class, health care for all, and a return to fiscal responsibility--something this President and his allies in the Senate seem to have forgotten about completely.

"I've had the opportunity to meet voters from every corner of Maine, and they have spoken with one voice about the need for real change. There's no question that Tom's record of service, his tenacity, and his judgment will make him an excellent Senator. I'm thrilled to be working alongside him in this critical election, and I look forward to working with him as President."

Allen: I'm With Obama

Rep. Allen, a Democatic superdelegate, has thrown his support to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Via press release:

"I have been friends for a very long time with former President Clinton and Senator Clinton. I respect their service to our nation. Hillary Clinton has run a vigorous campaign and has attracted a passionate following in Maine and around the country. She loves this country and is a true leader. For her service, I am grateful," he said.

"Most of the primary voters across the nation have now spoken. It is time to bring a graceful end to the primary campaign. We now need to unify the Democratic Party and focus on electing Senator Obama and a working majority in the United States Senate. That is how we can change the direction of the country.

"I am running for the U.S. Senate because I believe Maine should lead the change this country needs. I share important priorities with Barack Obama: universal health care, reining in gas and food prices, greater independence from foreign oil, bringing our troops safely home from Iraq, creating jobs and strengthening the middle class."


"In February I watched a new generation of Mainers become involved in our nominating process because they were energized and hopeful about the future. I watched Independents and Democrats--and even a lot of Republicans--in Maine enthusiastically support Barack Obama because they believe he can and will put America back on track," he said.
Not exactly a surprise.

But it does point, once again, to the enthusiasm gap Sen. Collins is likely to face in the fall: Maine Democrats--who supported Obama overwhelmingly--are energized. Desperate to turn the page, they're excited about the November election.

Maine Republicans? Not as much.

Plain and simple: Sen. Collins will lose her seat in the fall unless she's able to win the votes of many Obama supporters.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Does McCain Help?

USA Today raises the issue:

Republicans have 23 Senate seats to defend in the fall, and four incumbents — Sununu, Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota — are among the most vulnerable.


Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said the deciding factor for GOP incumbents in November could be whether Democrats can succeed in efforts to "morph McCain into George Bush."


Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College, said Allen and the Democratic Party are chipping away at the independent credentials of Collins and McCain by linking them to Bush. "Tom Allen voted against the war and the (Bush) tax cuts from the start," he said.
Yes, her term-long embrace of Bush is a problem for Sen. Collins.

But is her puzzling attachment to Sen. McCain--whose presidential candidacy she endorsed long before he was the presumptive nominee--any less troubling?

Remember, McCain ran the most fervently pro-occupation campaign of all the major GOP candidates, and would be happy for us to stay in Iraq for a hundred years. But Collins, who professes to be looking for ways to reduce our involvement in that country, still wants him to be President.

McCain also wants more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Samuel Alito And Collins, who calls herself pro-choice, still wants him to be President.

Why endorse--and so early--someone you profess to disagree with on the major issues of the day? And how are voters supposed to make sense of these (and many other) self-refuting stances?

These are the kinds of question you'd think an enterprising reporter might want to pose to the junior senator.

UPDATE: Of course, Collins voted for Alito. And that's a topic that deserves further probing as well.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Forest, Trees, Etc.

Sen. Collins waives two cents at war critics, and BDN acts like she's given them a dollar.

Wednesday's BDN editorial is better than the paper's first article touting the junior senator's proposed ban on Iraq reconstruction spending: The piece acknowledges that the plan is almost purely symbolic. But it still errs in characterizing the proposal as genuine, meaningful progress.

Notably, it fails to mention that there is no new funding in the pipeline for Iraq reconstruction--at least none that I've been able to find. So prohibiting such expenditure is either an empty gesture, or a suggestion that the President can't be trusted not to shift US military funds to Iraq reconstruction projects.

(Of course, if Collins thinks the latter is the case, and that the President is fundamentally untrustworthy, she should end her support for his Iraq policy.)

Implicit in the editorial, throughout, is the sense that while the proposal doesn't amount to much, it's the best politically viable progress we can currently hope for.

But that assumption misses a key point: What's politically viable is a function of what Sen. Collins and her "moderate" Republican friends are willing to get behind.

In other words, BDN ought to cut out the middle man and call on Collins to abandon her unwavering support for an indefinite occupation. And it should challenge Sen. Collins to withdraw her endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) unless he pledges to extricate us from Iraq in a lot less than 100 years.

What Convention?

As far as I can tell, neither Sen. Collins campaign website nor her Senate site so much as mentions last week's Maine Republican convention.

No text, no video, nothing.

Seems the junior senator might prefer we forget that, like far-right columnist Cal Thomas and former Governor Mitt Romney, she received an enthusiastic reception from Maine's anti-choice, laissez-faire Republicans delegates.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

No Aisle Crossing

Senate Guru (does he ever sleep?) catches Sen. Collins breaking with Sen. Snowe, Sen. Roberts (R-KS) and the Democrats to vote with the Republican leadership against legislation "to make the flying skies safer and more passenger-friendly."

No word yet on why the junior senator opposed allowing even an up-or-down vote on the bill, which included a passenger bill of rights and a tighter inspections regime for the airlines.

A House version of the bill passed last year.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Let me be explicit about something bubbling beneath the surface in my various posts on HRC's decision to endorse Sen. Collins.

Namely: Other progressive interest groups have absolutely no business going there. And it'll be a scandal if they do.

I cut HRC some slack on the Collins endorsement because the junior senator has a genuinely respectable record on their agenda. She's been willing to buck her party and her president, and she's done it repeatedly.

Clearly, Rep. Allen has a substantially better record. But I can almost forgive HRC's decision, flawed as it was, because Collins has at least stuck her neck out on gay and lesbian issues.

But when it comes to just about every other area in the progressive interest group universe, it's a totally different story.

Whether you're talking about abortion rights, the environment or civil liberties, Collins isn't just inferior to Rep. Allen. She's part of the problem.

And so if they endorsed Collins, organizations working in these areas would be turning their backs on their members and their core missions.

A number of factors make this true, and we'll explore many of them at length as the race unfolds.

But for now, one illustration: A key moment for Collins--and perhaps the quintessential test of her respect for progressive values--was the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

It wasn't the only time she was tested. But it was one of the more prominent. And in the context of the contemporary political landscape, her 'yea' vote was decisive: It was as clear and complete a betrayal of pro-choicers, enviros, and civil libertarians as you could imagine.

It erased any doubt left about whose side she's on. And it--alone--was enough to void any purported claim she had on the allegiance of moderates and progressives.

Collins on the Gas Tax Holiday

Sen. Collins breaks with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) over his gas tax holiday proposal. And on the merits, she's right.

[Rep. Michaud] said [House Transportation Committee] members are worried that the loss of revenue for highway programs would cost jobs and delay needed bridge and road repairs.

"I think we have to look at the long term," he said. "I think we have to look at real solutions, like regulating the trading of energy futures."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she shares the concern that a suspension of taxes would adversely affect not only Maine but the entire country. But she said she will review all of the ideas being proposed.

"I would not support any measure that would direct funds away from our already ailing transportation infrastructure," she said. "More manageable fuel prices would be better achieved, for example, by halting the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and repealing tax breaks for big oil companies, and redirecting the funding to consumers, both of which I have proposed."
Good for her.

Quote of the Day

Not Iraq, huh?

In an interview, I [Cal Thomas] asked Collins the main reason Republicans lost their congressional majority and are struggling to regain a political foothold in what looks like a big year for Democrats. She said, "There was an explosion of and increase in spending."
Not corruption? Not incompetence?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Collins Speech in Review

Three things jump out at me:

1. You have to be pretty cynical to accuse your opponent of coddling terrorists and then (minutes later?) face the TV cameras and say about the campaign, "I fear we're gonna see all those horrible attack ads." But it's the kind of cynicism you'd expect from someone who--when it's politically expedient--promises voters to serve no more than two terms and then goes back on her word when it interferes with her career plans.

2. I'm also puzzled by the speech's core message, which seems to be A) Democrats are hyper-partisan, interest group-coddlers who can't be trusted and B) I'm the strongest candidate because I work so well with Democrats. (Of course, evidence be damned, everyone knows the junior senator is a moderate-bipartisan-centrist, so naturally the Maine press will feel free to ignore the dissonance.)

3. Collins' lament about the length and expense of campaigns is a cute move given her fundraising profile and February decision to launch the earliest and most vicious attack of the cycle.

Collins, you'll remember, has received seventy percent of her funds from out of state donors; has traveled out of state to tell donors their money will play a key role in deciding race; and has received millions from business PACs.

Memo to the junior senator: One of the reasons the race has been expensive is that you've been hitting up your corporate friends for big donations, and then using those funds to smear your opponent.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Collins' Convention Speech


Part 1

Part 2

UPDATE: seems to have missed some of the speech. But in these clips, if I'm counting correctly, Sen. Collins says the word "Iraq" only once--and in passing.

In general, the address is noticeably light on the discussion of issues, even by the standards of a campaign speech at a political convention.

Collins at the Convention

The AP runs the first extended piece on Sen. Collins' remarks at the Maine GOP convention. Here's the meat of the article:

While allowing that she and Allen both care deeply about Maine, Collins said "the similarities pretty much end there" and ticked off a list of areas in which she and the congressman differ.

Collins said she supported Republican tax relief efforts, which Allen opposed. Collins said she voted for Medicare Part D drug coverage while Allen opposed it, and that she supported allowing the government to intercept overseas phone calls "of terrorists plotting to kill Americans" while Allen did not.


Collins touted her own record of helping to steer through legislation to protect the security of cargo, reorganize federal intelligence programs and make changes in the Federal Emergency Management Agency following Hurricane Katrina.

Collins also said she is best positioned to work in a bipartisan manner, while Democrats say she voted with the Bush administration 81 percent of the time.
Several points.

First, it's encouraging to hear the junior senator being upfront about her support for--and Rep. Allen's opposition to--the budget-busting Bush tax cuts for the super-rich. Why she wants to flaunt her soft spot for billionaires at a time when one in eight Mainers uses food stamps is beyond me. But good for her for being honest about it.

Second, Medicare Part D was, of course, a drug industry-sponsored sham, and it's since proven to be a boondoggle. So her pride in that vote is also hard to fathom.

Third, the bit about wiretapping (assuming it's been conveyed accurately) is a bald-faced lie. No congressional Democrat that I know of--Rep. Allen included--objects to wiretapping terrorist phone calls. What they take issue with, instead, is President Bush's illegal program of warantless eavesdropping on Americans.

Collapsing the distinction between these two issues is a disingenuous cheap shot and a smear. It would be like calling Sen. Collins an ally of North Korea because both she and Kim Jong Il don't object to the US staying bogged down in Iraq indefinitely.

Finally, while I understand what the reporter was driving at in the last sentence quoted above, the wording is unhelpful: Readers aren't interested in what Democrats say about Collins' voting record. Either the junior senator has voted 81 percent of the time with the Bush administration or she hasn't.

Which is it, AP?

UPDATE: In line with Gerald's complaint here, I'm also struck by how little coverage there's been of the convention in the Maine press. I understand it may not be front page news, but when a state party with two incumbent senators gathers in a presidential year, surely it deserves some attention.

There is one media organization in Maine that's treated the convention as important news: The one that's New York-owned, web-based and operated on a shoestring.

No, we're not patting ourselves on the back. We're talking about

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Quote of the Day

Betsy Smith, Executive Director of Equality Maine:

"I don't think that the HRC has a basis anymore for this type of endorsement. People were upset in 2002 when they endorsed Collins over Pingree, but it was a little more understandable then...This is a very, very different situation. They now have every reason to look at both candidates, and records that both of them have in Washington."

Collins to GOP Convention: Wha?

I haven't been able to get my hands on the text or video of Sen. Collins' remarks to the Maine Republican party convention earlier today. But the very short AP story on her speech is sort of baffling:

After a rousing introduction by fellow Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, Collins ticked off a list of areas in which she and Allen disagree, such as committee choices, privacy and Medicare prescription drug coverage.
Seriously? Committee choices?

I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean. But now I'm intrigued.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Punishing Good Behavior

Pivoting off Gerald's strong points, a few final thoughts on Human Rights Campaign's endorsement of Sen. Collins.

As I said from the start, HRC had its reasons for endorsing Sen. Collins. But it's worth mentioning that the purely political case for the endorsement is exceedingly, almost laughably weak.

Consider: Just about everyone--including Republicans--believes that Democrats will gain seats in both chambers in November. And the smart money believes that the GOP's chances of regaining control of Congress before 2012 are slim to none.

Meanwhile, Sen. Collins has already come out in favor of ENDA and against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

So unless HRC thinks Collins' positions are contingent on their endorsement--unless they think they've essentially bought her cooperation--the Maine Senate race represents an opportunity to replace a lukewarm (but reliable) supporter from the minority party with a solid ally from the party in power. In other words, someone in a position to actually advance HRC's goals.

Now it's true that most Democrats in the Senate already respect HRC's agenda. But it's also true that there will be many competing priorities for Democrats to tackle over the next couple years. And when it comes to public support, expanding protections for gays and lesbians isn't exactly high on the list.

Given this landscape, HRC's willingness to signal to its most stalwart supporters that the organization doesn't have their backs--and that HRC won't even refrain from endorsing their challengers--seems beyond boneheaded. It seems like a huge strategic miscalculation.

But at a minimum, it's a questionable way for the organization to persuade wobbly pols to champion its issues.

UPDATE: Poor word choice: I didn't meant to suggest that protections for gays and lesbians are unpopular. (Which I'm pretty sure isn't the case). What I meant, instead, is that such protections are not a top priority for most Americans.

Republicans in Augusta

Susan Cover is on the ground at the Republican convention in Augusta. Wonder how Sen. Collins' nod from Human Rights Campaign is playing with the delegates...

UPDATE: Politicker ME is promising photos and video.

The Interest Groups

November's election isn't likely to turn on Human Rights Campaign's endorsement of Sen. Collins. But since the junior senator's success with voters depends on convincing them she's a moderate, there are some other progressive organizations whose verdicts will matter: If she's embraced by moderate, left-leaning groups, this will inevitably solidify the impression among voters that Collins is who she says she is.

Conversely, if Collins finds herself attacked by progressive organizations, independents and Democrats who've supported the junior senator in the past will surely take note of that as well.

So it will be interesting to see how these endorsements shake out, whether any organizations decide to sit on the sidelines, and whether those who do take sides back their words up with fundraising, organizational support, etc.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

HRC: Many Factors At Work

David Smith, VP of Programs at HRC, via e-mail:


As you acknowledge in your blog post, there are many factors that go into determining which candidate to endorse. It is not good strategy to work against an incumbent with a demonstrated track record in the Senate, who has laid the groundwork for the progress we want to make...

HRC is a bipartisan organization. This is not an empty principle or a meaningless nod to an ideal we do not follow. We are bipartisan because equality knows no party, and because we simply cannot achieve justice for the entire GLBT community by conceding that only Democrats should care about us. We cannot, should not, and will not make fundamental human rights--the right to work, the right to be safe from hate violence,
the right to protect your family--a partisan issue.

To her credit, Susan Collins has demonstrated that our rights are not a partisan issue, but an American issue...

We thank Rep. Allen for his continued commitment to equal rights. We stand by our endorsement of ally, friend, and leader Senator Susan Collins.
Striking, for a couple reasons.

Smith is being pretty open about the power dynamics here: He acknowledges that pissing off incumbents isn't in HRC's interests. But he also makes it clear that Collins' Republican affiliation weighed in favor of endorsing her. And he implies that it weighed rather heavily.

Of course, critics of the endorsement likely agree with Smith that HRC ought to be a bipartisan organization. But they'd argue that the onus should be on Republicans to sign onto HRC's agenda--rather than on HRC to bend its standards to accommodate members of the GOP.

UPDATE: Having now listened to Mike Signorile's interview with HRC's David Smith, I heartily recommend it. Worth your while if you have a few minutes.

More HRC and Collins

Human Rights Campaign's decision to endorse Sen. Collins has kicked up some dust with progressives over the last several days.

Howie Klein panned the move on Monday, noting at Huffington Post (and in comments here) that Collins has backed some of President Bush's most egregious judicial nominees, and that she actually scores well below Rep. Allen on HRC's own legislative scorecard.

Meanwhile, the endorsement has been ridiculed at Daily Kos and elsewhere.

HRC VP David Smith took to the airwaves yesterday in an effort to quell the controversy. And while I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet, the upshot seems to be that Smith continues to face skepticism within the GLBT community.

We've got an e-mail in to Smith, asking him to detail the reasoning behind giving Collins the nod. We'll let you know if he gets back to us with anything interesting.