Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bangor By Dawn

We've been complaining for some time now about Sen. Collins' lack of engagement with adult Mainers, and about the absence of citizen forums on her schedule: As far as we can tell, it's been more than a year--and possibly much longer--since she's stood before Maine voters, taking questions in a free, public forum.

(All the while, she regularly finds time to address middle school audiences.)

Well, hold onto your hat: It looks like the junior senator is now ready to meet the masses. Or at least those who make it to the Bangor Public Library on May 19 at 7:30am.

A rare opportunity at an odd hour: We've put in an e-mail to event's sponsor--Bangor Foreign Policy Forum--asking about the timing, and seeking to confirm that the junior senator will indeed answer questions.

(Worth noting, though, that several of the events on the organization's calendar start at that hour.)

What questions would you ask Sen. Collins?

Monday, April 28, 2008

HRC Endorses Collins

No, not Hillary Rodham Clinton:

The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered citizens, announced on Monday that it will support 10 senators for re-election, including Senator Susan Collins.


Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that Collins has been supportive of issues important to gay and lesbian voters, including support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The bill, which passed the House last year, would ban discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the workplace.
This isn't surprising, but it's still frustrating.

To her credit, Sen. Collins does have a solid record on gay and lesbian issues. It's one of a (very) few areas where her rhetoric about bucking the GOP holds up to reality.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is an area where the junior senator and Rep. Allen have nearly identical positions and vote profiles. (Though I haven't done the research to confirm this.)

But here's the thing: In a closely divided country with a closely divided Senate, a vote for Sen. Collins is a vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for Majority Leader. And advancing the cause of gay rights isn't exactly high on his agenda.

Come to think of it, it's not on his agenda at all.

So if you're a one-issue voter interested in protecting and defending the rights of gays and lesbians, it's a no brainer: You vote for Rep. Allen, who has essentially the same views as Collins but will support a Democratic leadership team much more receptive to the concerns of gays and lesbians.

There are a number of (understandable) agendas at work in Human Rights Campaign's decision to back Collins--the desire to reward good behavior, respect for the power of incumbency, an interest in positioning itself as an organization whose appeal transcends partisan divisions, etc.

But voters face a much simpler calculation.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fourth And Goal

The KJ runs a pro-Collins letter from Elizabeth St. Laurent--the fourth Collins-boosting letter the paper has run from St. Laurent over the last twelve months.

I was torn about whether the letter was even worth flagging. But notice how it slips in the pro-Collins language as if it were an afterthought; as if it were an incidental point, rather than the letter's entire purpose for being.

Of course, there's no way for me to know what's in St.Laurent's head. But as far as I can tell, these four letters--all heaping praise on the junior senator--are the only four she's had published in the KJ over the last year.

So you tell me.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

BDN Falls For It

As if on cue, the Bangor Daily News applauds Sen. Collins for sponsoring legislation--to the best of my knowledge, as yet unwritten--which would require the government of Iraq to take on some reconstruction and fuel costs.

Forget the fact that the entire US outlay for Iraq reconstruction represents less than two percent of what we will soon have spent in that country. Forget the fact that we burn through an equivalent amount of money every fifty days at the occupation's current force strength.

Still, the junior senator is spinning this as an important policy change.

Look: There's nothing wrong with having Iraq pay for our fuel. I'm all for it.

But it would be a tiny drop in an enormous bucket; an almost purely symbolic effort that sidesteps the central issue.

To wit: If Sen. Collins was really interested in grappling with the Iraq war's ever-rising financial toll, she would abandon her support for an indefinite occupation; she'd write legislation forcing the President to reduce our commitment there; and at a bare minimum, she'd prod her good friend Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to hold daily hearings on corruption in Iraq war contracting.

Of course, she's done none of these things.

So, please, let's see this new proposal for what it is: A lawmaker, caught on the wrong side of history and her constituents, scrambling for political cover.

It's that simple.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

$1.4 Billion

Last week, the Maine Democratic party put out a press release alleging a total Iraq war cost to Maine taxpayers of $1.4 billion.

It's a number I hadn't seen before. And I'm always suspicious about statistics that purport to break down government costs, especially when they come from partisan sources: Crunching budget numbers requires making assumptions, and so there's ample opportunity for manipulation.

But after looking into how the release's figure was calculated, I have to say it seems solid: The National Priorities Project arrived at it by tallying up Maine's actual share of tax dollars sent to the federal government (including income tax, gift tax, estate tax, etc.) and multiplying that share by the amount of money already allocated for Iraq war spending.

So the $1.4 billion number doesn't include the fiscal 2008 funding request, or any future allocations. It doesn't include Afghanistan spending, the Veterans Affairs budget, or any other add-ons. And it's based on Maine's actual share of federal tax receipts rather than an estimated figure.

In other words, it's an extremely conservative figure, one that understates the ultimate cost Mainers will bear--since at least some future Iraq spending is inevitable. And since the war carries so many hidden costs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

But Will He Apologize?

Over the weekend, the Kennebec Journal ran a letter from Maine GOP Chairman Mark Ellis explaining why pols who miss even a tiny fraction of votes are cheating their constituents.

Ellis, you'll remember, is the guy who stepped in it last fall, snarling via press release that, "Congressman Allen really seems to have lost interest in showing up to work" after Allen missed three votes for what turned out to have been a family funeral.

As far as I know, Ellis still hasn't apologized for the release's language, or retracted the charge. Instead, he clings to the fatuous, kooky idea that this race should be as much about Sen. Collins' perfect attendance as about issues and substance.

(Interestingly, though, the text of the original press release, which Collins staffer Lance Duston excerpted approvingly at Maine Web Report at the time, can longer be found in that blog's archives. At least I can't find it.)

Finally one positive worth noting: The KJ includes Ellis' GOP affiliation in the letter's signature. So I suppose that counts as progress.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, a cached version of Collins staffer Lance Dutson's above-referenced blog post can seen here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Attack Video Gone

Not sure when it disappeared, but the incendiary video at Sen. Collins' out-of-state fundraising site is no longer live.

Was it pulled because of the press scrutiny? Did Sen. Collins get cold feet? Or was it merely a bandwith issue?

It's not clear.

Before the internet, this kind of vicious, misleading smear would be ancient history by election day. But in a world where information is always only seconds away, it will live on.

The upshot is that, come fall, Sen. Collins will have a tough time arguing that she's been running a positive campaign all along. And she'll get pushback if she gets on her high horse about negative attacks from Rep. Allen, should he decide to go that route.

You can still watch the original video here.

Pope Skips Dinner

Appears that Sen. Collins' dinner with the Pope didn't actually materialize.

(BDN is now characterizing the plan for the dinner as having been a rumor. But on Monday, the paper presented it as fact. Just saying.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Collins Q1: $963,000

From Political Extra:

[Sen. Collins] raised $963,260, bringing her total to $5.52 million. She has $4.51 million in cash-on-hand.
Collins has opened up a sizable cash-on-hand lead over Rep. Allen.

Still, as we've noted in the past, both candidates are going to have more than enough money to compete. (Of course, it's always better to have more cash than less.)

UPDATE: As Eric Kleefeld at Election Central notes, this is already the most expensive Senate campaign in Maine history.

And it's just getting started.

UPDATE UPDATE I've corrected the post's title which originally referred (incorrectly) to Q4.

Allen Q1: $700,000+

From the Allen camp:

Congressman Tom Allen has raised more than $3.7 million for his U.S. Senate campaign.

"Individuals responding to Tom Allen's message of changing the direction of this country...contributed the overwhelming majority of our first quarter receipts, which totaled more than $700,000," said Carol Andrews, communications director.

The cash on hand total at the end of the quarter was almost $2.7 million. Allen's campaign received 2,654 contributions with an average gift of about $250. The most common contribution was $100.
That's slightly down from the $813,000 he raised in Q4.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Collins to Dine With Pope

It will be the first visit papal visit to Washington since 1979:

"I'd much rather meet the pope than a movie star," the senator said. "It's inspiring. It helps deepen my faith. It makes me feel humble and unworthy that I have this opportunity when many people don't have the opportunity."

Fish, Barrel, Etc.

Republican Ryan Lorrain wants you to know that Sen. Collins "has never failed to represent Maine in the 3,764 opportunities she has had to do so."

But apparently, he doesn't want to broadcast too loudly that he's running for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives this year. And the Google-averse editors at the Morning Sentinel don't feel the need to let readers know about Lorrain's affiliation either.

(Incidentally, I think Lorrain and I have different ideas about what it means to "represent Maine" in congressional votes.)

Free Collins Watch subscription to anyone who can point to three pro-Collins letters published in Maine papers over the last six months that weren't written by members of the Maine Republican party apparatus.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

They Issue Statements

On last week's testimony from Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker:

The Iraqi government has still, more than five years after combat operations began, demonstrated neither the will nor the capacity to sufficiently enact and implement the measures necessary for national reconciliation--and therefore, it’s long past time for us to redeploy and transition our forces to a change of mission...

As long as [the Iraqi government] assume[s] the long-term protection of the United States will be in place, they have no incentive to address the root cause of the sectarian violence.
--Eli Pariser, political director of Moveon.org

Oh, wait. I'm sorry: That wasn't Pariser. It was Maine's (Republican) senior senator, Olympia Snowe.

Of course, she's missed a handful of votes over the years, so her opinion may not be worth much.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who Pays

Today's Blethen article on the Petraeus hearings also references the reconstruction funding issue, and a question Sen. Collins addressed to Ambassador Crocker on that subject:

"Isn't it time for the Iraqis to start bearing more of those expenses, particularly in light of a windfall of revenue due to the high price of oil?" Collins asked.


In 2003, Collins and several others pressed President Bush to require Iraq to pay back a portion of $20 billion in reconstruction funding. Bush showed his displeasure when he met with Collins at the White House, according to news accounts at the time.
Let's set the record straight here before the Collins folks spin this into a fairy tale.

As far as I can tell, the U.S. has provided no new reconstruction funding to Iraq since the original $20 billion grant. So Collins is talking about having the Iraqis pay back some percentage of $20 billion.

If you've been following the war at all, you know that $20 billion barely amounts to a drop in the bucket: The war and occupation will cost the American taxpayer well over $1 trillion. So getting the Iraqis to pay back some fraction of two percent of our costs won't make much of a dent.

Let's be clear: The notion that the costs of our Iraq adventure are ever going to be recouped is just plain wrong.

The money is gone, we're not getting it back, and the people who supported and enabled the war are to blame.

The Ambiguous Case

This headline--Collins ambiguous on Iraq issues--and the lede that follows speak volumes:

Maine Sen. Susan Collins carved a middle path during Tuesday's Capitol Hill hearing on the war in Iraq, neither criticizing nor praising last year's troop surge and offering no opinion on its success or failure.
Striking, isn't it?

On the most important issue of our time, six years into a debacle of world-historical proportions that she helped set in motion, it's not at all clear where Sen. Collins stands.

Sure, we know what she's against--withdrawal deadlines and redeployment timelines. And, yes, she supports a toothless bill that slaps a new name on the mission without forcing any change in policy.

But is there any binding legislation that she does support?

We know what Rep. Allen thinks:

The only way to change direction in Iraq is for Congress to set a firm, responsible deadline for bringing our brave men and women home. I will continue to vote against funding for the war that does not include a clear and responsible end to our involvement in Iraq’s ongoing religious civil war.
We know what Sen. Snowe thinks:
It's long past time for us to redeploy and transition our forces to a change of mission.
But Collins has tried to split the distance, rhetorically, between occupation critics (like Snowe and Allen) and the war's supporters--all the while rejecting any plan that would in any way tie the hands of President Bush.

This inert, muddled approach may be politically astude given the Maine media's preference for empty centrism over clarity and sound policy. But it ain't exactly leadership.

UPDATE: Collins is twisting in the wind on the Colombia trade bill, too. (And check out the wildly misleading headline.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

BDN Snoozes Again

Gerald takes BDN to task for lazy coverage. I'd add just two points.

First, reporter Bill Trotter allows the Collins camp to maintain, unchallenged, that Allen is "more than 20 percent behind in the polls." Given that the only non-partisan poll in months says otherwise, this is inexcusable.

Second, Trotter states that, "Allen also indirectly touched upon the issue of his ties to MoveOn.org," but never elaborates or explains. Unless you count Allen's discussion of Gen. Petraeus and his work in Iraq as fitting Trotter's description. But that's a huge stretch. It's a Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of stretch.

The impression that's left is that Trotter was intent on including a dig at Moveon.org in his piece, and that the mere mention of Petraeus gave him an excuse to do so.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Rasmussen Data

Lots of fascinating data in the new Rasmussen poll on the Collins-Allen contest. Here are a few nuggets we found particularly salient:

--Collins is ahead 20% among males but only 13% with women.

--She has support from 27% of registered Democrats. Relatedly--and perplexingly--she scores 32% preference among self-described liberals. (Expect both of these numbers to fall as the election approaches.)

--Collins wins all age groups, but Allen is closest (-4%) with voters under 30.

--If Allen is to have any shot of winning, he will need to improve his standing with voters earning under 20K (-6%) and voters earning 20K-40K (-13%).

--Allen leads decisively (+22%) among voters who think Iraq is the most important issue.

--By contrast, Collins leads by an even larger margin (29%) among voters who think the economy is most important. This is another area where Allen needs to improve for the race to tighten.

--Collins does just about equally well with supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

New Independent Poll

Election Advantage spots a new, independent Allen-Collins poll just out from Rasmussen, a reputable outfit: Collins +16%.

That number makes more sense to me than the margin in last week's Republican survey. And as Election Advantage notes, it shows Collins with the smallest lead she's had all cycle.

In fact, if you skip the Republican result and look only at non-partisan data, it quickly becomes clear that over the last six months, poll by poll, Allen has slowly whittled down Collins' lead--from 23% back in October down to the current margin of 16%.

Allen clearly has a ways to go. But with seven months till election day, a 16 point lead certainly doesn't seem insurmountable.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Presidential Poll

You can bet that this Maine presidential preference poll from Rasmussen got the attention of everyone at Collins HQ:

John McCain (R) 39%
Barack Obama (D) 49%
I, for one, am surprised by these numbers.

To be sure, Maine is a blue state. But Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is a known quantity, basking in the glow of a decade of positive press coverage.

On the other hand, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)--the probable Democratic nominee--is still new to national politics. He's excited a lot of people, bringing a staggering number of new, young voters into the process. But he still hasn't finished introducing himself to the state and the nation.

Granted, I'm no prognosticator. But it seems to me that his lead over McCain is more likely to grow than diminish as Mainers get to know him.

So: What effect would an Obama landslide victory in Maine--and a wide enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats--have on the Allen-Collins race?

It's a question you can be sure the junior senator's team is considering.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Case in Point

This article from the Sanford News is a case study in how the junior senator typically interacts with local constituents when she hits town:

Collins spent Friday taking a swing through southern Maine. Before arriving at the Sanford News office, she toured Whatman on Community Drive in South Sanford. Earlier in the day, she toured the Terra Cotta Pasta Company in Kittery and visited an elementary school and attended a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in York.
To recap: An editorial board meeting; a tour through a couple of companies; a school visit; and lunch with business folks.

Nothing wrong with any of that. But left out of the equation, of course, is direct contact with unvetted groups of adult Mainers.

Question: Why does Collins seem so averse to mixing it up with average Mainers? Why does her itinerary so often include a chat with school kids and a private meeting with business leaders, but virtually never a forum with her voting constituents?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Real ID

Crisis averted.

Interestingly, Sen. Collins seems to blame Maine law for the stand-off, whereas, Rep. Allen puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Not sure if that difference of opinion has political legs--or who it advantages--but it is worth noting.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

New (Republican) Poll

Political Extra tells us that Republican polling outfit McLaughlin & Associates has a new poll out--the first in many months--with Sen. Collins up 23 points on Rep. Allen.

I've never heard of the company. And the poll has a relatively high 5% margin of error. So make of it what you will.

But it's safe to say that the junior senator is still in the lead in this race.

Real ID

We've refrained from discussing Sen. Collins' role in the Real ID stand-off because we've had trouble making sense of her role.

Is she carrying water for the Bush administration, as the Maine Civil Liberties Union seems to think? Or is she using her access to the Bushies to make the best case to the Feds on behalf of Maine?

We're going to keep an open mind until we see strong evidence one way or the other.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Talking With Voters

Rep. Allen is holding a conversation with Mainers in Waterville next Monday night. It's open to the public.

As I've remarked previously, Sen. Collins seems to find plenty of time to talk to middle schoolers. But I can't remember the last time she took questions from actual Maine voters in an open forum.

Free Collins Watch subscription to anyone who can prove Collins has held a free Q & A, open to the public, for Maine adults within the last year.

They Write Editorials

The Kennebec Journal, refreshingly sane:

Attendance records are properly the province of teachers and school administrators, not politicians. But Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has turned her unbroken attendance streak at Senate votes into a blunt instrument against her challenger, Maine Democratic Rep. Tom Allen...

On the stump, Collins has charged that Allen has missed 145 votes during his more than 11 years in Congress. "That tells you something in terms of commitment," said Collins at a Lewiston Republican Party dinner recently.

No, it doesn't.


While Collins' attendance record is an accomplishment, it's a big stretch to propose that it should provide a significant basis for evaluation of her record...

Attendance at votes speaks nothing about the substance of those votes. And in the end, what Maine voters should focus on in this race and others are not diversionary tactics, but where candidates have stood and now stand on significant issues such as the economy, health care and the war in Iraq.