Sunday, August 31, 2008

Collins Goes After Vets Group

As Maine Politics notes, the Collins campaign is working like mad to paint VoteVets as a tool of the liberal fringe. And I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few of Sen. Collins' dittoheads in the Maine press corps accept that characterization.

But VoteVets is a veteran-founded, veteran-run organization that, according to its website, has 102,000 thousands of veteran members. Its stated mission is "to ensure that today's soldiers have the necessary resources to successfully complete their missions."

Plus, the spot is delivered by a real live Iraq war veteran and Mainer--rather than, say, a well-paid Hollywood star who admits he was just doing it for the money.

In short: An astroturf front group VoteVets is not.

So, will Maine voters really swallow an effort to spin the ad as a stealth con from arugula-eating, Kucinich for President diehards?

Between their smears and cheap shots, don't the Collins folks need to, y'know, actually rebut the substance of the thing?

UPDATE: Forgive me--the Collins camp press release does contain a rebuttal. Of sorts.

After mentioning the drop-in-the-bucket proposal we discussed earlier, the release continues:

In addition, [Sen.] Collins...sent a letter to the President on August 7, asking that the Administration provide further details of the steps it is taking with the government of Iraq to increase that country's investment in its own reconstruction and restabilization, along with plans to ensure that American taxpayers do not continue to foot the bill for these efforts.
So there, VoteVets. Take that.

Meanwhile, I can already see the debate:

MODERATOR: What steps did you take in Congress to help change our Iraq war policy?

REP. ALLEN: I opposed the war from the beginning and voted repeatedly to bring our troops home.

SEN. COLLINS: Well, on August 7 I sent the President a letter asking for further details. See? I didn't just "stand by" and let things happen.
It would be funny--if the consequences weren't so disastrous.

UPDATE: The write-up at the implies that all its members are veterans. Several news outlets (like this one) have accepted that figure.

But a reader has pointed to a Washington Post article (no link available) which disputes these numbers. So I've revised the post to acknowledge the ambiguity.

And I've gone ahead and contacted VoteVets for clarification.

Camp Collins Responds to VoteVets

The Collins camp sends Neal Williams out with talking points misleading enough to cry out for clarification.

Williams mentions just after 1:05 that the amendment Collins has supported represents an effort to "recover reconstruction costs" from Iraq. But then, just after 1:20, he reframes the proposal as an attempt to "recover the costs of this war."

Don't be fooled.

Remember, the Iraq war is on its way to costing well over $1 trillion. And reconstruction costs have topped out at about $20 billion--or 2% of the overall figure.

So conflating the two is like equating Hurricane Katrina and the puddle you stepped in this morning.

The major economic cost of the Iraq war has always been the cost of sending the world's best military to police a thousand-year-old sectarian conflict. By its nature, doing that is a very expensive proposition--even if we never shelled out a single cent for reconstruction.

Now, there's nothing wrong with getting the Iraqis to pay us back for the buildings we put up and the hospitals we helped relaunch.

But the idea that coaxing the Maliki government to throw us a few pennies counts as a major achievement--or that it should be the centerpiece of a senator's Iraq policy--is absurd. It's appalling.

And it's especially galling to hear from a candidate content to have our troops stay in that dangerous country indefinitely, as the human and financial toll continues to mount.

The VoteVets Ad

In contrast to the corporate-backed propaganda flooding into Maine in support of Sen. Collins, this ad doesn't try to trick voters into believing the opposite of the truth: It's basically factual.

Still, one of its core claims--that Collins "stood by and let all this happen"--is an oversimplification.

After all, the junior senator didn't just stand by as Iraq turned into a mess and then a catastrophe. She ratified President Bush's policy in vote after vote after vote.

And when that started to look like a dangerous strategy politically, she embraced a
trifling proposal designed to divert attention from the war's tragic mismanagement, human toll and economic cost. (Two months before Election Day, she's still mum on these issues.)

Meanwhile, to this day, she continues to reject any Iraq withdrawal timeline--even now that Prime Minister Maliki has demanded one and George W. Bush himself is on board.

So, yes: Susan Collins is guilty of sins of omission when it comes to Iraq. And those sins are flagrant, numerous and breathtaking in their scope.

But she's guilty of sins of commission as well.

And Now For Something Different is on the air with an ad slamming Sen. Collins.

The group says it's committed $200,000 for a week-long blitz.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Collins: Palin Pick "Exciting"

The junior senator praised the selection of the staunchly pro-life governor and Pat Buchanan fan as her party's vice presidential nominee:

Palin’s lack of experience--she has been governor for less than two years and was a mayor in an Anchorage suburb before that--is not a concern, Collins said.
UPDATE: It appears that Susan Collins and Sarah Palin have something in common. (Context here. And here.)

Noted Without Comment

From the Kennebec Journal's online Opinion page:

State and national campaigns are now under way. You are a vital part of that democratic process and we welcome your letters about the candidates, their campaigns and the issues.

However, we cannot publish every letter submitted...

We will publish 10 letters per candidate in the period between now and the election, Tuesday, Nov. 4. That includes letters from candidates themselves, although exceptions will be made if a candidate wishes to respond to a story or editorial about him or her.

There will be one exception to that rule: Due to the broad interest in the presidential race, we will publish as many letters about each presidential candidate as space allows.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Photo of the Week

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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Question of the Day

In early 2005, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) put forward a proposal to increase the minimum wage.

And Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) forwarded a competing proposal, presented as a business-friendly alternative.

Supported by stalwart conservatives like Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) and Sen. George Allen (R-VA), the Santorum version increased the minimum wage by about half as much as the Kennedy proposal while also expanding tax breaks for small business.

Only 16 senators voted against both proposals.

So why was Susan Collins one of them?

Collins: I Can Bring (Bipartisan) Change

This is entering self-caricature territory. And we're only in August.

Yup: Sen. Collins delivers a speech--billed as a "special message"--that runs a full 100 seconds without mentioning a single issue or issue position.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Foster's Daily Distortion

In an editorial light on facts and long on dubious claims and spurious reasoning, Foster's editors make the following (unsubstantiated) assertion:

[Collins] is one of a handful of senators looked to for their expertise by the national media, frequently appearing on radio and television.
Seriously. They actually wrote that. I'm not kidding.

Where to start?

First of all: Radio? Please.

But more important: Remember all those times Sen. Collins has been on Meet The Press, This Week and Face The Nation? I don't.

In truth, there are very few senators who have appeared less frequently on national broadcasts than Maine's junior senator. And I know this because I've poked around.

Looking back over the last eight years, I've found only: A nauseatingly non-confrontational Fox News segment; a quick, informational CNBC discussion; a longer interview on C-SPAN; and an uncharacteristically bland set of questions from Chris Matthews on Hardball.

That's it.

So that's about forty minutes total of TV time over the last six years.

Now, I'm sure there are at least a few more appearances I haven't been able to track down. But no one who's been paying attention could possibly think that Susan Collins is a regular on the television news circuit.

Instead, Collins has been hiding from national outlets. Just like she's been hiding from adult Mainers.

And with good reason: Having voted with President Bush whenever it counted over the last eight years and racked up a power ranking that puts her in the bottom third of all senators, she's careful not to let unvetted national reporters puncture the bubble of positive news coverage that the subservient Maine media provides.

It's lousy for democracy but it's a smart battle plan. And apparently Jon Breen and the folks at Foster's are nothing if not good soldiers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

Susan Collins is politically adept, but we all know she's a secret Bush clone.

Free For All

Not sure how long it's been live. But we just noticed that the Collins campaign store isn't a store at all: They're giving t-shirts, mouse pads, lapel pins, bumper stickers and balloons away for free.

No shipping charges, no handling fees--nada. All Collins fans have to do is key in their street and e-mail addresses.

It's an interesting (unprecedented?) choice, and it highlights three things.

1. Sen. Collins' team understands that theirs is not a typical campaign: The strategy is to run a race almost completely devoid of substance--to run away from a discussion of the big issues (and Collins' positions on them) whenever possible.

Instead, they're focusing on personal qualities. And they'll try to use the junior senator's popularity as a self-reinforcing case for re-election. (People like Susan Collins, therefore she must be doing a good job.)

A couple of sources I talked to had questions about the tactical wisdom of giving away t-shirts and mouse pads--both felt it was an inefficient use of campaign resources. But I'm not so sure.

When your re-election argument turns on a fact-free, emotional appeal, you need to make sure that the appeal is reinforced as often as possible--even if doing that costs dearly.

2. Sen. Collins team grasps the fact that they've got more money than they'll ever need.

TV time is cheap in Maine. And they know that the junior senator's billionaire allies and corporate friends will take care of the heavy lifting during the campaign.

So they've got cash to burn.

3. The junior senator's team appreciates that while her support is wide, it's exceedingly thin: Collins may be up in the polls, but she faces a serious enthusiasm deficit. And her lead is built on a big advantage with low-information voters.

So giving away Collins t-shirts is probably the only way to get them on the backs of more than a few handfuls of Mainers.

Does that approach risk making Collins appear desperate to be liked? Does it invite the observation that more than three-quarters of each complimentary t-shirt was paid for by out of state donors, and that a full quarter was funded by business PACs?

Perhaps. But in this issue environment, the Collins camp would rather be discussing these issues (or card check, coat check, Czech food, etc.) than talking about the concerns of Maine voters.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gang of Fifteen

Are David Griffin of Cape Elizabeth and one-time Maine House candidate W. David Griffin (R-Cape Elizabeth) one and the same?

If so, his correspondence represents at least the fifteenth pro-Collins letter written by a party insider that's been published in a Maine paper since 2007. (One wonders whether the Maine GOP will eventually run out of astroturfers.)

If you're curious about when they'll fix The Google over at PPH, my guess is that it'll probably be the day after the November election.

Collins Kicks Off Campaign

A bus appears to be involved. More here.

UPDATE: Remember, it wasn't long ago that Sen. Collins was saying that Mainers don't want to hear about politics until after Labor Day.

AFL-CIO: Collins' Talk Is Cheap

According to Maine Politics, the AFL-CIO is on the air with this radio spot.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Noted Without Comment

From the web version of PPH's editorial page:

The public is invited to a meeting of the editorial board held each Thursday from 12:30 to 1 p.m. in the fourth-floor editorial office at 390 Congress St., Portland.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Links and More Links

All readers: If you use a newsreader, our feed is available here.

Maine readers: Remember that if you receive phone calls, mailers or flyers relating to the Allen-Collins race, we want to know about it.

Insiders (and others): Please send tips here.

Fellow bloggers: The Collins Watch Flickr pool is open for business. We'll be adding copyright-free photos there as the campaign proceeds. We hope some of you will, too.

And while we're on the subject of sharing, remember that you can contribute to Collins Watch using the "Donate" button at right.

Photo of the Week

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

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Allen: Collins is For Corporations

This seems to be emerging as standard attack line from the Allen folks. Here's Rep. Allen in Portland today:

The Chamber and other allies of Susan Collins--like WalMart--have for weeks now attacked me and Maine's working men and women with distortions. The very names of their front groups--like Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and Employee Freedom--are lies.


Why are Susan Collins' allies in the U.S. Chamber attacking me and Maine's working people? Because they don't want change.

They want people to work hard for them, but they don't want them to be able to bargain for better health care benefits and fair wages.

They don't want change. They want more of the same.

The same Bush-Collins economic policies that give massive tax breaks to the superwealthy and the big corporations while working people fall farther and farther behind.

Susan Collins is on their side. She has voted down the line for the Bush economic policies.

That is why these big corporations and the U.S. Chamber are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars--now about $800,000--into television and radio ads that the Brunswick Times Record rightly called "sleazy."
(Via press release.)

Question of the Day

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has so many houses that he's lost count.

But even he resisted the urge to vote for the Bush administration's unaffordable, irresponsible tax cuts for the super-rich.

So why couldn't Sen. Collins muster the courage to say no to her friend Karl Rove?

Centrism Watch

I'm not suggesting we had anything to do with it. But lately, we've been seeing at least a slight move away from the standard Sen. Collins-as-centrist formula in some prestigious publication.

Instead of referring to the junior senator--without qualification--as a "moderate," these outlets are hedging by saying that Collins "is seen" as a moderate.

Or that she's a moderate "at least on social issues." Or that she "is viewed as a moderate when compared to her national party."

As welcome as this development is, these publications are still straddling: The truth is, either Collins is a moderate or she isn't. And clearly, having backed the position of our radical, reactionary President on more than three out of every four votes over the years, she isn't.

Everyone knows that it's the job of the press to separate the fact from the rumor and appearance from reality.

So can we please here less about how Susan Collins is seen and more about, for example, how she's performed in office?

Curatola: It's Was Just Business

The star of the corporate-backed, Sopranos-themed ad campaign to re-elect Sen. Collins speaks:

“As a working actor, I am provided with many opportunities to appear in commercials,” [Vincent Curatola] said in a statement made available by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. “These are business decisions and do not reflect my personal views or opinions.”
UPDATE: Another terrible article from Blethen on the ads.

This one actually includes much of the information a careful, informed reader needs to figure out that the spots are lies. But it packages the facts in a way that seems designed to make it as difficult as possible to reach that conclusion.

Consider the opening:

Legislation that would allow organizers to unionize workplaces without secret-ballot elections...
Already, this is extraordinarily misleading: It strongly suggests that workers aren't currently allowed to organize without elections. But reporter Noel K. Gallagher knows this is false.

How do I know? Because she (he?) says so.

Today, when a union organizing effort is under way, workers are asked to sign cards seeking a union.

At that point, one of two things can happen: An employer can accept the cards and recognize the union, or it can require an election.
So then why start the piece with the flagrant misrepresentation that elections are currently mandatory? And why do we have to wait 16 paragraphs to learn the truth that the lede conceals? It's not clear.

It's also not clear why Gallagher observes, way up in the third paragraph, that "Opponents say the change would take away workers' right to an anonymous vote" when she clearly knows the charge isn't true--it's the privileges of the employer that are at stake.

And you have to wait to paragraph 25 (!) to learn that, "if 30 percent of the workers want an election, they can have one." Workers retain that right under the proposed legislation.

(So much for the pyramid style of reporting.)

Finally, while the article is pegged to the airing of the ads, it never mentions the claims made in them or asks their sponsor why the spots resort to false assertions.

Of course, that would require making powerful people uncomfortable. And that's something PPH seems awfully reluctant to do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Paper: Ads Meant To Obfuscate

Another newspaper calls out corporate-backed anti-union ads for trying to trick Mainers.

With BDN having run an op-Ed weeks ago refuting the ads' claims, the absence of any similar debunking in the pages of the Blethen papers is more conspicuous by the day.

You'd think that newspaper editors and editorialists would take special offense to big money propaganda campaigns that use lies in an effort to swing an election outcome.

Of course, some people think PPH is, "already dead."

Allen: I'm With Workers...

...and Sen. Collins is with Wal-Mart.

"Thank You, Sen. Collins"

Here's the Friday morning broadcast from WJBQ, the day after word about their interview with Sen. Collins circulated widely.

No news, but they sure have a lot of fun with the story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Question of the Day

Sen. Collins thinks the Cheney energy bill was "imperfect." The McCain campaign calls it a "pinata of pork." And the League of Conservation Voters termed it the "most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory."

So why did Susan Collins vote for it?

Collins on Energy

Sen. Collins' campaign has posted a new video that purports to outline the junior senator's position on energy.

But after four minutes and 11 seconds, we're still no closer to knowing why Collins voted for the pork-laden, environmentally-disastrous Cheney energy bill.

Look: It's one thing to make promises in the heat of a campaign. It's another thing entirely to stand up for Mainers--and for energy independence--when it counts.

On the Cheney energy bill, Susan Collins had a chance to bolster her moderate, pragmatic credentials. She refused that chance.

Monday, August 18, 2008

WJBQ Interview in Perspective

As I've written, I thought Sen. Collins' performance in the WJBQ interview was undignified and that it raised questions about one of her key arguments for re-election: That she's a champion of civility and comity in a polarized Washington.

So I'm not surprised her remarks have received plenty of attention. You certainly won't see me complaining that they've generated more coverage in the local press than they deserve.

Still, I must say it's disappointing--and even depressing--to see local outlets treating this story as a major development even as their coverage virtually ignores the issues at stake in the upcoming election, the campaign's progress and Collins' record over the last several years.

It's astounding, for example, that PPH found space to spill 1,407 words over the course of two detailed, well-reported stories on the Collins interview; and yet so far the paper has run only a single perfunctory he-said/she-said article on the expensive, corporate-backed astroturf campaign to trick Mainers into putting the interests of multinational corporations ahead of workers in the voting booth.

And it's a scandal that, to this day, the Maine media still seems not to have determined why Susan Collins went along with President Bush on shredding the 800 year old right of habeas corpus.

And if local outlets refuse to probe theses issues, no one will.

So, yes: Coverage of this story was understandable and deserved. But if Collins' on-air gossiping merits this much plays, surely her performance in office deserves scrutiny as well.

EQME: Collins In "Lockstep"

Breaking with Human Rights Campaign, local LGBT advocacy org EqualityMaine has endorsed Rep. Allen.

And they take a couple of swipes at Sen. Collins in the process:

"After repeated requests for her to sponsor legislation, Senator Collins has called for a re-examination of this policy, but that is simply not enough," said [Executive Director Betsy] Smith. "Until it is repealed, Don't Ask, Don't Tell will undermine national security and perpetuate discrimination against LGBT Americans who serve their country."


Smith added, “Congressman Allen has refused to vote in lockstep with the most anti-LGBT administration in modern history. His votes have broken with this administration over 80 percent of the time. Meanwhile, Senator Collins chose to vote with this anti-LGBT administration 77 percent of the time. She has also supported the confirmation of highly conservative court appointees, setting back progress on relationship recognition issues and endangering critical protections for our allies, for women and for choice.”
So, why do EQME and HRC see things so differently?

In a nutshell, it's the difference between a local organization focused on issues and a Washington-based group obsessed with Capitol Hill power dynamics.

(Via TMB.)

PPH Notes, Doesn't Debunk, Smears

The Blethen papers finally get around to examining the false and misleading ads being bankrolled by Wal-Mart and other anti-union corporations.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case in the Maine media, the article frames the issue in a way that suits Sen. Collins--it parrots false claims rather than debunking them.

And then, for good measure, reporter Keith Edwards swallows a whopper--giving the junior senator credit for doing something she hasn't.

Has Edwards seen this fact check of the ad in question? Has he read PolitickerME's detailed coverage of the issues involved?

Does he know that a spokesman has said that Collins agrees with the ad's false message? Or that Collins has passed up opportunities to call for it to be pulled? It doesn't appear so.

Also lost on Edwards: There's a big difference between rejecting third-party ads in the abstract and denouncing a particular, slanderous attack on a rival.

Anyone who follows politics closely knows this.

Yet, despite Edwards' characterization and the article's headline, there's nothing in the piece to suggest that Collins has, in fact, called out the ad or the lies it contains.

And let's be honest: It's no wonder she hasn't. By staying quiet, Collins continues to send the silent message to her big business friends, allies and patrons that she welcomes their help.

As her record suggests, when the time comes, she'll be more than happy to return the favor.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday Interview Roundup

The Press Herald follows up, using two political analysts to make the case that the WJBQ interview--which PPH itself covered on page A1 just the day before--is pretty much irrelevant as a political matter.

Is one of the PPH's two analysts a political consultant who literally advertises his connection to Collins on his website? See for yourself.

Meanwhile, the story is now reverberating through the right-wing media, with both Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and the Drudge Report taking note of the junior senator's comments.

Elsewhere, WJBQ's Jeff Parsons adds some further thoughts. He also provides audio from a prior, more benign Collins interview.

And the story has finally jumped the pond.

Quote of the Day

Allen campaign spokeswoman Carol Andrews on Sen. Collins' WJBQ radio interview:

Congressman Allen is spending his time talking to Mainers about his plan to strengthen the economy and has no time for spreading rumor.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Interview Roundup

The print version of the Press Herald story is here. It's not terrible, but it studiously avoids any attempt to contextualize Sen. Collins' comments, or tell readers why they matter.

Granted, it's not hard to figure out why the junior senator's speculations were unseemly. And maybe there's an editorial coming. But it would have been helpful to have a few words of analysis from a political expert.

The article also states, incorrectly, that the video is circulating, "mainly on political blogs written by Democrats." Even at press time, this wasn't true: By my count, the video was live at five non-partisan sites (including PPH's own homepage and and five partisan ones.

Elsewhere, WGME runs a piece, WCSH completely mischaracterizes what transpired during the radio interview, PolitickerME dubs Collins one of its losers of the week and Jeff Parson embraces his moment.

And as of this afternoon, BDN and Foster's Daily Democrat were both still featuring uncorrected versions of a since-corrected AP story that repeats WCSH's error.

New Poll: 15 Points

Rasmussen's August numbers are out and they show a 15 point advantage for Sen. Collins:

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

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

That's very good news for the junior senator. It's too bad, though that the poll was taken on Tuesday--just before the radio interview kerfuffle--rather than later in the week.

WCSH Gets It Wrong

Sen. Collins never was asked if she thought the baby belonged to Edwards: She was the one who took the conversation in that direction.

The junior senator volunteered her assessment without being prompted.

WJBQ Distances

Jeff Parsons, Co-Host of The Q Morning Show at Turn Maine Blue:

[Sen. Collins'] views are not reflective of the radio station, my cohosts Meredith and Lori, nor myself.

New Collins Ad

Maine Politics spots a new ad from the Collins camp.

Juxtaposed alongside Sen. Collins' undignified speculations about John Edwards, it provides quite the contrast.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday Interview Roundup

ABC News, WGME and Politico tackle the story here, here and here.

And Jeff Parsons, who appears to be the person responsible for posting the original video, reacts here.

Meanwhile, Gerald focuses on overlooked aspects of the interview here and Maine Politics posts an abbreviated, YouTube version here.

UPDATE: PPH weighs in. At 6:37pm, the article dominates their homepage.

UPDATE UPDATE: I forgot Senate Guru.

The Interview

Having watched the interview a couple more times, three thoughts:

1. It's sort of stunning how undignified Sen. Collins' performance is, especially for someone who presents herself as a paragon of decorum.

Can you imagine Rep. Allen laughing his way through a discussion of Edwards? Can you see Sen. Snowe dishing publicly about the paternity status of a former colleague? I can't.

2. There's also a callousness on display in the interview--a meanness--that I frankly didn't know was in Collins, even after having watched her closely for the last two years.

It's the kind of meanness you expect from Rush Limbaugh--or Tom Delay. Not someone who talks incessantly about the need for civility, and who has and staked her re-election on the idea that her very presence in Capitol Hill raises the tone.

Collins worked alongside Edwards for six years. And she professes to excel at bringing colleagues together. Even if she wasn't close with him, surely some of her colleagues were.

So how does her flagrant--and flagrantly insensitive--gossiping help her win the cooperation of those colleagues going forward?

3. If there was any doubt about the reasoning before, it's now abundantly clear why Collins' campaign has walled her off from regular Mainers, except in the most structured, scripted situations.

It didn't take a tracker to catch Collins saying something ugly. She did it out in the open, and with an extremely friendly interviewing team.

So I wouldn't expect to see her taking live questions from unscreened groups of voters--or anyone else--anytime soon.

UPDATE: Election Central has picked up the story. So has

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Collins: Edwards Is the Father

If this isn't super-icky, I'm not sure what is.

Is it just me, or is it clear from Sen. Collins' gleeful reaction that the discussion of Edwards pretty much made her day?

The key section begins at 3:30. But it starts to get ugly way back at 1:59.

PPH: Collins On Bush's Side 77% of Time

The Portland Press Herald is one of the "news" organizations most responsible for advancing the myth that, facts be damned, Sen. Collins is a bipartisan moderate centrist who loves to reach across the aisle.

And yet, even this Collins-friendly paper is now admitting the truth: That the junior senator has voted with President Bush 77% of the time.

Getting a newspaper to concede a demonstrable truth shouldn't exactly be a big deal. But given PPH's water carrying for Collins, it's actually pretty remarkable.

Will BDN be next?

The Effectiveness Myth

A letter from York published here presents Sen. Collins in a way that will be all too familiar to Mainers.

According to the writer, the junior senator is a "hard worker and well-studied legislator"; a "driving force" who has "led the way" and a "rare leader" who "gets things done for Maine and for the country."

We've heard it all before.

And yet it's telling that--as is almost always the case--the characterization lacks any supporting details: We never find out what Collins has accomplished, how she's "led the way" or how all the hard work has translated into results.

It's just sort of known that Collins is great at what she does, and that Maine is better off for it.

In truth, the portrait of Collins as some kind of ace legislator--a master of the Senate--is betrayed by the facts. And it's a portrait in desperate need of scrutiny, even if the Maine media is unwilling to provide it.

Let me be clear, first, that there is a kernel of substance to the idea. And this is surely part of why surrogates in her staff and the press have been so successful at working this bit of branding into the media narrative.

Namely: By all accounts, Susan Collins is an earnest and hard working person. And in so far as the interests of Mainers coincide with her conservative ideology, she does seem to try to look out for her constituents.

The problem--and it's a big one--is that there's no necessary connection between being earnest and being effective; or between hard work and good outcomes. And that's where the facts break down and the myths take over.

To wit:

MYTH #1: Collins' hard work and spirit of cooperation have gained her clout and influence in the Senate that benefits Maine.

The independent, non-partisan Congress watcher (owned by Roll Call) begs to differ. They ranked Sen. Collins #68 out of 100 senators in their data-rich, exhaustively-researched power rankings for 2007. She ranked #10 out of 13 among the the senators first elected with her in 1996, and in the bottom half of Republicans.

(Rankings for 2008 will be out in late October.)

And think about it: Is Sen. Collins the most popular recipient of PAC money from her Republican colleagues because she's especially successful at twisting their arms? Or because they're successful at twisting hers?

Think she's beloved by Karl Rove, Rick Santorum and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)--a first term senator who has already leapfrogged her on the power rankings--because of the influence she wields? Or because she's easily influenced?

MYTH #2: You miss the point. Sen. Collins may not be "powerful" in the conventional, Washington D.C. sense of the term. Rather, she's mastered the art of using a collegial, behind-the-scenes approach to steer projects and dollars to Maine.

If you're talking about earmarks, Collins ranks #63 according to, with about $132 million to her credit. By comparison, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) raked in just under double that amount for his home state. And he's only been in the Senate since 2006.

If you're talking about non-earmarked public projects, by far the most prominent example is, of course, the shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works. And as we all know, the junior senator's clout and influence have led to exactly the result she was lobbying to avoid.

MYTH #3: The fact remains, Collins has repeatedly written landmark legislation that's improved the lives of all Americans. Maybe her bills aren't flashy or expensive, but they're serious and important. And her hard work and skill are why they got done.

Name them. I'm not being facetious. I've been writing this blog for almost two years and the only landmark legislation with her name on it that comes to mind is the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which implemented the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

The uncontroversial bill passed 89-2. And good for her. But surely, the lion's share of the credit goes to the 9/11 Commission itself--for writing the recommendations and then touring the country to build political support for them.

In that instance, Collins didn't come up with the ideas or persuade her colleagues to accept them. She may have helped usher the bill toward passage, but it was bound to become law in any case.

And when you think of some of the truly groundbreaking legislative developments over the last eight years--the Military Commissions Act, the Protect American Act, the Bush tax cuts, etc.--the junior senator's role is far from clear.

Typically, she either has little to say about the bill until the last minute and then hops onto the side of President Bush, whom she's voted with 77% of the time. Or she talks about how the issue is complicated and the bill imperfect before, you guessed it, voting with President Bush.

In either case, she's reacting to events rather than shaping them. She's seeking political cover rather than taking a firm stand and then working to build a consensus behind it.

And whatever else that is, it's no way to be a leader.

Allen On EFCA

UPDATE: You'll notice that Rep. Allen is answering a questions, here, from an audience filled with people who look very much like adult Mainers.

Sen. Collins, take note.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Times Record: Ads Are "Despicable"

Strong words from The Times Record about the corporate-backed, anti-union lies now polluting Maine's airwaves:

Political advertising in Maine has sunk to a new low, thanks to the misleadingly named Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.

The coalition, which launched an aggressive campaign of anti-union television ads this spring, dragged Maine television viewers deeper into the slop with a new ad that portrays union officials as crime syndicate kingpins and six-term U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, the Democratic Party's challenger to two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, as the union bosses' henchman in Maine.

The ads are slick but sleazy. They insult Allen, union members, the history of the U.S. labor movement--and the intelligence of all Mainers.

Bankrolled by deep-pocketed, out-of-state silent partners who for decades have lobbied Congress and state legislatures to make workers' rights and safety subservient to corporate profits, the coalition attempts to damage Allen's image with voters by equating him with strong-arm, anti-democratic tactics...

They aim to divert a strong Democratic challenger in a key race for control of the U.S. Senate by driving a wedge between leaders and members of unions that, for good reason, have historically backed Democrats. Introducing Allen and Collins into the latest round of ads proves that this campaign's about politics, not democracy.

Production quality masks the dishonesty of the ads' basic premise, which is that union leaders run roughshod over members' rights.

In fact, the Employee Free Choice Act, which Allen and most major U.S. unions support, does not deny members the option of secret balloting in contract votes. It aims to strengthen legal protections for workers who seek to unionize or who face coercive conduct by employers during labor-management negotiations...

The despicable ads focus on the internal issue of union balloting to distract voters from the coalition's broader agenda, which continues to hinge on muting workers' voices during the process of lawmaking.

They should require a disclaimer that reads: "Brought to you by the people who fought family leave, collective bargaining, a livable wage, the 40-hour work week and occupational safety laws."
As good as it is to see this kind of unflinching assessment, the editorial only underscores how scandalous it is that, by and large, the Collins-friendly Maine media has remained silent.

After all, what we're talking about here, at bottom, is a sophisticated, expensive campaign of corporate-backed propaganda that uses outright lies in an effort to trick voters into believing the opposite of the truth.

You might think that kind of thing would raise eyebrows in newsrooms around the state.

Or maybe, by now, you know better.

No Defense

From PolitickerME:

Allen's campaign routinely criticized Collins for voting in favor of the 2005 energy bill. They say it was backed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and spurned the spikes in oil prices.

A spokesman for Collins' campaign, however, said that Collins acknowledged the bill was imperfect at the time. Also, he said, it passed with the approval of 74 senators.
And this tells us what?

Collins voted for the bill. Acknowledging that it "was imperfect" doesn't explain anything. And pointing to how others voted is a distraction, not a defense.

So we aren't any closer to an answer to the question, Why did Sen. Collins vote for the Cheney energy bill?

I still have no idea why.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Our military is over-stretched. The country is up to its ears in debt. Maine is staring down a home heating crisis and the state has one of the most closely-watched senate races in the nation, featuring candidates with radically opposing views of how to solve the problems we face.

And the Sun Journal--which hasn't exactly been overwhelming readers with incisive political coverage--gives us 1154 words on how celebrities are raising money for politicians! In Maine!

Look: Everyone already knows that Sen. Collins is a moderate bipartisan centrist who likes to reach across the aisle--I get that.

But a little more reporting on the actual facts of her record--and the record of her opponent--wouldn't exactly be overkill.

But But But

Get ready to see push back from Sen. Collins' camp on CQ's well-documented report that the junior senator has voted with President Bush 77% of the time.

Keep in mind that the 77% figure radically understates Collins' support for the Bush agenda: When you look only at the President's top legislative priorities over the last seven-plus years, she been with the White House 100% of the time.

But the Collins team is likely to focus on the fact that the 77% figure is among the lowest Bush support scores for senate Republicans.

The obvious retort to this argument is: So what?

If you got pulled over for driving 95mph, would you complain to the officer that someone else was going even faster?

Not if you knew what was good for you.

Look: Sen. Susan Collins made the decision to side with President Bush on more than three out of every four votes. Period.

Talking about where that puts her among her colleagues isn't a defense or explanation of that choice.

It's an attempt to distract attention from that choice.

NOTE: We've added a larger version of the photo above to the Collins Watch Flickr group.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lucky Thirteen Fourteen

In keeping with the standard astroturfing approach, Fred O. Smith II gets in a jab at Rep. Allen before he finds an opportunity to laud Sen. Collins. But laud her he does.

Now, maybe this isn't the same Fred Smith who just weeks ago sat on the
Maine Republican Platform Committee. And perhaps it was another Fred Smith who was a 2006 County Chair in Sen. Snowe's re-election effort.

Maybe that was Fred Smith I. Or Fred Smith III.

I can't be sure. And since the Google is out for repair at the Kennebec Journal, we may never know.

For an explanation of why we care about this kind of astroturf, start here.

UPDATE: Anonymous, in comments, is correct: Number 13 was here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thought of the Day

If I was in the progressive politics business and had a couple-few million dollars to spend on the Allen-Collins race, I'd make sure that every adult in Maine knew the number 77.

And I'd make sure they knew it soon.

Collins with Bush: 77%

PolitickerME points us to a nifty new feature at A rundown of presidential support scores for every member of Congress.

Sen. Collins clocks in at 77%: She's sided with the President on just more than three out of every four votes over the last seven-plus years.

(Rep. Allen, by contrasts, has supported the position of President Bush a measly 18% of the time.)

We knew the junior senator's Bush support number was in this neighborhood: Collins has successfully nudged it down a bit since she clocked in at 81% a couple of months back.

Still, it's helpful to have the entire matrix available in one spot for all to see. And to have a full explanation of the methodology.

Since the score is derived from 564 votes, it's not likely to budge much over the next few months.

Stepping Back

Huzzahs to Gerald for doing the exhausting but essential work of debunking the lies about the Employee Free Choice Act being pushed by corporate front groups.

Still, it's worth stepping back for a moment to remind ourselves that the card check smear attacks are really about something much larger:

Preserving the wealth of corporations and those who run them.

Don't get me wrong: The folks in the corner offices at Wal-Mart and elsewhere are concerned about the Employee Free Choice Act. But they're also concerned about tighter regulation, the capital gains tax rate and international trade agreements.

It just so happens to be more palatable, in an electoral context, for them to complain about card check than to howl for lower taxes for millionaires or rail against environmental standards in trade accords.

(And it's always easier to attack pols who care about the interests of the bottom 95% of wage earners when you can find a way to wrap your message in faux-populism.)

The reasons the attacks are so strident is pretty obvious: For most of the last eight years, corporations have had more or less carte blanche in Washington. If we wind up with a Democratic president and large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, those days will have come to a decisive end.

Naturally corporate interests aren't going to relinquish power without a lot of kicking, screaming, whining and flailing.

And that's what we've been seeing: The smears now on the air are the first few kicks and screams.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Allen Unveils Ads

TV and radio spots will begin running Saturday.

UPDATE: Here's the TV ad:

More Wondering

Out of state anti-union front groups are smearing Rep. Allen with false attack ads, the most recent of which trades on stereotypes about the relationship among unions, organized crime and menacing Italian-American men.

And according to PolitickerME, Sen. Collins, "agrees with the message" of this ad.

Now, Maine just happens to have a governor with an Italian-American ancestry and a small business background.

I wonder what he thinks of corporate attempts to draw an equivalence between union activities and the tactics used on The Sopranos.

Maybe someone should ask him?

Collins: Unions Worse Than Mafia

This just in from PolitickerME:

Sen. Susan Collins agrees with the message in several ads that attack opponent and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen for his support of the Employee Free Choice Act...a spokesman for her campaign said Wednesday.
So there you go.

The junior senator is now on the record endorsing the view that unions, as a group, are more pernicious than mafia.

She's on the record standing behind the lies debunked here and the smear that unions, collectively, are mere tools of organized crime.

And her spokesman is on the record parroting the lie that the Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the private ballot in union elections. (It wouldn't.)

It's been clear for weeks that Collins and her team were more than happy to benefit from misleading corporate-backed, anti-union ads and the false impressions they create.

But I'm positively stunned that a spokesman would acknowledge that Susan Collins agrees with the ugly smears and lies at the core of the various ad campaigns.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Just Wondering

Rep. Allen is holding another press conference tomorrow. I e-mailed the campaign and they confirm that, as usual, he'll be taking questions.

When's the last time Sen. Collins held a press conference with reporters?

In Maine, I mean.

Dieter? Bill? Anyone?

Astroturf Endorsements

Okay, so it isn't exactly an astroturf group. But as Gerald makes clear, REP's endorsement amounts to less than meets the eye.

I haven't seen the press release, but I wonder: Does it note that Sen. Collins voted for the Cheney energy bill that the League of Conservation Voters--which REP cites approvingly--called the "most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory"?

I'd guess not. But I'd love to be proven wrong.

Latest Pro-Collins Ad

From the anti-union, Wal-Mart-backed Coalition for a Democratic Workplace:

Fact-check of a nearly-identical ad here.

If Sen. Collins has an issue with these kinds of dishonest attack ads, you wouldn't know it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Everybody Does It (Really)

As we all know, Sen. Collins frames herself as a moderate, driven by pragmatism rather than ideology. And to perpetuate this myth, her surrogates make a number of related arguments.

But their most prominent and important one is this: Collins is a champion of compromise. She works well with Democrats. She's great at crafting bipartisan solutions.

We're likely to hear this argument--call it the "Collins plays nice" thesis--ad nauseam between now and election day. And to be fair, it does have some truth to it.

Of course, one wonders where the junior senator's bipartisan spirit was when she parted ways with Sen. Snowe to vote for the unaffordable 2003 Bush tax cuts, ramrodded through Congress with the aid of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote.

And to be sure, there's a big difference between shepherding meaningful, big-ticket legislation through Congress and backing token measures designed to massage problems rather than solve them--Collins' drop-in-the-bucket plan to narrowly trim Iraq spending comes to mind.

Still, the core idea--that the junior senator gets along with Democrats and has little trouble working with them--seems to be basically true.

But here's where things break down: The notion that working well with others, across party lines, should count as some sort of re-election credential is ridiculous. It's beyond silly.

Because being able to compromise is a basic job requirement in the Senate. As long as the filibuster exists, it's the only way things get done.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has worked extensively with Democrats. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has done the same with Republicans. The same is true of polar opposites Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

That doesn't make them moderates or centrists. And it's not an important selling point for their re-election. Instead, it speaks to each senator's recognition that he was sent to Washington, D.C. with a job to do. And that he'll almost always need bipartisan support to do it.

So let's get real: The idea that Sen. Collins is unique--or uniquely-adept--at crossing the aisle to get things done is nonsense.

She's not better at it. She just talks about it more than anyone else.

Quote of the Day

McCain campaign Senior Policy Adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer:

The 2005 Bush-Cheney energy package...was a pinata of pork.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quote of the Day

Paul Kane, Washington Post reporter:

There are not many politcal reporters [in Maine], now that the Portland Press Herald has closed its DC bureau there is not a single reporter in the entire state who covers the congressional delegation down here, so no one can explain to voters the intricacies of what matters and what doesn't matter down here.

This is a problem for Allen--and, it's going to be a bigger problem for the state of our democracy as other papers close bureaus and there's less scrutiny of Congress from home-state papers than at any time in 100 years.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Weekend Reading

If you're indoors, taking refuge from the rain, why not curl up with a pair of late-1990s Sen. Collins profiles?

Here's one from The Boston Phoenix. And here's The New York Times Magazine's effort.

They both make for interesting reading, but not for the reasons you might expect: More than anything else, they remind us how innocent a time the 1990s were, and how much has changed.

In the articles, the junior senator gets a lot of praise for opposing the removal of President Clinton from office. She gets credit for refusing to sign onto the partial birth abortion ban--or at least certain versions of it. And she's forgiven for backing unaffordable tax cuts because the package favored by the Republican leadership was even more irresponsible.

In the context of the times, these positions made it possible for Collins to claim, credibly, to be a moderate Republican. And most Democrats outside of Maine--in part because of profiles like these--viewed her as, at worst, harmless.

(In retrospect, The Times profile is particularly credulous and fawning: It's clear that reporter Michael Winerip is far too willing to see a handful of GOP-bucking votes as evidence of wonky pragmatism rather than, say, political expediency.)

Of course, Collins' moderate street cred was one of the reasons many of us we're aghast when, as the Bush administration took the country down a radical, illiberal path, she went quietly along for the ride.

In 2003, 2004 and 2005 we were stunned as Collins and other "moderates"--rather than serving as a check on the worst instincts of the Bushies--helped instead to fuel their corrupt, lawless and power-mad agenda.

Historians will have to decide why Collins and others stood with President Bush when the country needed them, instead, to stand up for fiscal sanity, clean government, the rule of law, and basic human freedoms.

Of course, Mainers don't need to wait for that judgment.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Collins Photo Sharing

We've started a photo-sharing group at Flickr.

Here's the idea: We'd like to use the group as a hub for user-generated and copyright-free images of--and relating to--Sen. Susan Collins and the Allen-Collins race.

So, for example: If you attend a parade or campaign event and snap a great photo--posting it here would make it available to a wider audience.

And if you're a local blogger covering the race, the group can serve as a safe way to locate free images.

One important point: The group is not intended as a place to park photos scavenged from stock photo collections and other privately-owned sites on the internet.

It's meant, instead, as a place to upload photos you've personally taken and photos pulled from copyright-free venues--sites run by the federal government, for example.

We've kicked the group off with three copyright-free photos from Sen. Collins' senate website.

Won't you join us?