Friday, February 28, 2014

Sierra Club: We'll Pass

Sierra Club has decided not to endorse in the race between Sen. Susan Collins and challenger Shenna Bellows, according to Melissa Walsh Innes of the organization's Maine chapter.

Sierra Club declined to elaborate.

To an unknowledgeable observer, the move might seem a setback to Bellows, whose positions on the issues are more closely aligned with Sierra Club's than those of Collins. That Bellows has incorporated warnings about the urgency of addressing climate change into her campaign pitch while Collins has spent the last four years virtually ignoring the topic might seem to corroborate that view.

But such a conclusion ignores the relevant history and context.

Specifically, given Collins's sizable lead in the race's only published poll, Bellows's lack of voting record and the history of environmental organizations greenwashing the Maine Republican's record in a (desperate) attempt to burnish their bipartisan bona fides, Sierra Club's decision can more accurately be seen as one which raises questions about the eagerness of beltway-based left-leaning interest groups to go to bat for Collins in 2014 as they did last cycle.

When you factor in Sierra Club's unwillingness to endorse Collins challenger and stalwart environmental protection supporter Rep. Tom Allen in 2008, despite the vivid apples-to-apples contrast on the issues between Allen and Collins, the decision starts to seem like a win for Bellows.

(More on the peculiar reticence of left-leaning interest groups to tell the truth about Collins here and here.)

What nexus of considerations figured into Sierra Club's decision to buck Collins remains unclear. That Maine's senior senator has continued to side with her GOP colleagues on environmental issues with disappointing regularity is one likely factor--her lifetime score on the scorecard of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) remains stuck at 67% and she scored an astounding 0% as recently as 2010.

It also seems plausible that Bellows's long-standing membership in--and familiarity with--Maine's left-leaning activist community might have played a role: Her work at the ACLU would have almost certainly put her on the radar of the local affiliates of these organizations in a way that may have given her an opportunity to prove her credibility with their leaders.

It will be interesting to see what similarly-situated organizations such as LCV--which endorsed Collins last time--will do with a similar confluence of pressures. One notable difference on that front: Beth Ahearn of Maine Conservation Voters told me in a phone interview that at LCV, the local affiliate has no voice in endorsement decisions for federal officials.

Why Maine-based activist on the ground should have zero influence in decisions about who is best qualified to represent them in Washington she couldn't explain. But it is what it is.

Quote of the Day

Jim Antle, editor at the right-leaning Daily Caller News Foundation:

Not sure Shenna Bellows wouldn't be an upgrade from Susan Collins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On The Radar At Daily Kos

In a move that's that's hard to make sense of in strategic terms, National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring has gone out of his way not only to attack Sen. Susan Collins's challenger Shenna Bellows, but to link her to the popular left-leaning online community Daily Kos:

"Susan Collins is a strong, independent woman, and an effective legislator who always puts Mainers first. If the Daily Kos declares statehood, Shenna Bellows would fit in well, but in Maine she's way too far outside the mainstream for independent minded voters," he said.

Predictably, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas is having none of it:

1) [...] The national GOP is way outside the Maine mainstream. Objectively so.

2) Shenna Bellows grew up without electricity in rural Maine. Her dad's a carpenter, her mom's a nurse. So try to paint her as an outsider at your own peril.


5) If Dayspring had been magnanimous, I wouldn't be writing about this race right now. The last thing Republicans want is for buzz to start building around this race. They want it to remain sleepy, out of people's minds. Instead of having people follow a link to Shenna Bellows' campaign website.

Why Collins's NRSC allies would want to boost the prominence of the Maine Senate race among the national left-leaning grassroots--and to do it in a way designed to tweak activist Democrats, implicitly linking it to the national battle between Republicans and Democrats--is hard to fathom. Espcially given the track record at Daily Kos for grassroots fundraising.

But every time Collins and her allies go after Bellows it seems more likely that they see her as a real threat.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quotes of the Day


[Sen. Susan] Collins' campaign, meanwhile, said she is listening to arguments from both sides of the issue.
Collins’ office did not grant repeated requests for an interview with the senator.
Collins has not taken a clear stance on the issue. Her office said that the Republican continues to listen to Mainers and others as she weighs the implications.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Playing Politics On Torture

The Bangor Daily News, which has a history of using its coverage to advantage rather than challenge Sen. Susan Collins, for some reason makes an exception when it comes to one topic in particular: The paper has run not one, not two but three separate Op-Eds in the last four months prodding Maine's senior senator on torture.

And now the vote referenced in each of those pieces seems like it may finally be upon us:

Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins could provide the swing votes on whether to release a secret 6,000-page report that has been described as a scathing indictment of CIA interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists.


Collins has not taken a clear stance on the issue...While she strongly opposes torture, Collins' primary goal with the Intelligence Committee report is to "ensure that the report remains a tool for meaningful oversight and that it does not become a political issue that can be used by either party," according to a staffer in her office. (Emphasis added.)

Collins's position makes a certain amount of sense...until you actually think about it.

Certainly it's laudable--and probably imperative--for an investigation on a topic as serious as torture to avoid any hint of partisan slant. But the report has already been written, so that's not the question in front of the committee and it's not what Collins's (weirdly anonymous) spokesman is talking about.

Rather, the point being made by the Collins camp in the second bolded clause is about the report's impact--specifically the worry that it will yield partisan advantage to one side or the other. That's what it means when you say your "primary goal" is not to let the report become "a political issue."

But letting the political implications of a report outweigh the public interest in transparency and accountability isn't rising above partisan concerns. It's the essence of playing politics.

It means letting considerations about who gains and loses politically dictate what should and shouldn't be revealed to the American people.

Such a politically-focused approach would allow the crassest of calculations to factor into Senate oversight decisions. It requires salient information to be suppressed simply because somebody--anybody--might reap political benefit from its publication.

That is, of course, an extremely cramped vision of legislative oversight. Once spelled out, it's hard to take seriously.

Whether this is merely a talking point being floated by Collins (whose record indicates a willingness to abide torture) or a true reflection of her philosophy (which would explain her timid approach to Iraq war oversight during the Bush administration) is impossible to know.

But it hardly matters.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins's prospective Republican primary challenger Erick Bennett:

Can you imagine if the media did it's [sic] job and asked Susan Collins the hard questions about her record like they ask me the hard questions about mine?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

First Attack Launched

In the wake of surprisingly strong fourth quarter fundraising numbers from Shenna Bellows--the first time candidate beat three-term incumbent Sen. Susan Collins in total funds raised; received almost eight times as many donations as Collins; and reported having raised 80% of her money from Maine compared to 32% for Collins this cycle (according to the most recently published figures)--the Collins camp has launched the first negative attack of the campaign.

Specifically, in a letter to the editor, on Twitter and in a subsequent Tumblr post too silly and egregious to link to, Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage worked to downplay the significance of Bellows's numbers, raise doubts about the strength of her grassroots momentum and, improbably, portray her as a tool of big money donors.

That his attacks were built on baseless allegations and (deliberately?) false premises is really beside the point. (Though it's hard not to wonder where this sort of misleading blitz fits into Collins's campaign to restore civility to American politics.)

The real news gleaned from Savage's attack is what it reveals about the Collins campaign.

Namely, Collins and her team clearly think Maine's senior senator is vulnerable to being seen as an out-of-touch beltway insider. And it's not hard to figure out why: When you try to ride a wave of high dollar contributions to your fourth term in office--amassing a $3 million war chest from lobbyist-hosted DC fundraisers, corporate PACs and other influence-seekers--it becomes somewhat tricky to make the case that you're a Woman of the People.

Particularly if you recoiled at the idea of participating in the money-for-access merry-go-round when you first went to Washington.

In the absence of a politically defensible explanation for that kind of evolution, the Collins camp is responding by working to tear Bellows down, to neutralize whatever political advantages her strong grassroots showing provides.

It's an understandable political calculation--you might even call it predictable given Collins's history of brass knuckle politics. But it's not an especially ennobling one.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quote of the Day


I'm really surprised [Sen. Susan] Collins et al. wouldn't give McConnell and Cornyn a pass on the vote, either. DrewM is right that this is ultimately Ted Cruz’s victory in having forced a cloture vote in the first place--it ended up being a gift to Matt Bevin, McConnell’s challenger in Kentucky--but credit the RINO caucus with an assist in demanding that McConnell and Cornyn jump off the cliff with them.

For all the squawking centrists do about how the caucus has grown more "extreme," making McConnell bite the bullet on this one improved the odds that he’ll be replaced with a more conservative senator.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014



Given that the entire 55-member Democratic caucus is expected to support the clean debt ceiling bill, that means five Republicans would need to join with Democrats to advance the bill to passage. Centrist-minded [sic] Republicans like Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine all said they were undecided on how they will vote.


Sen. Ted Cruz and the GOP rank and file ultimately backed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn into a corner on the debt ceiling increase.

The leaders had wanted to allow the toxic measure to pass with just 51 votes so all 45 Republicans could vote against it. But Cruz, the Texas tea party freshman, demanded approval by a 60-vote threshold.

So McConnell and Cornyn tried to persuade more than five Republicans in safe seats to support the plan, but they were met with stiff resistance. No Republican wanted to be vote No. 60 on a bill to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts, forcing the GOP leaders to secure a comfortable margin of victory or risk being blamed for a historic debt default.

Miffed that they have long been asked to take tough votes when the GOP leaders voted 'no,' Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski, privately pressured McConnell and Cornyn to vote to break the filibuster, sources said. Murkowski resisted voting for the measure without the support of her leadership...

The vote proved to be anything but quick and easy...

That internal debate spilled into open view on the Senate floor. A grim-faced McConnell stood next to the white-haired Cornyn, who quietly discussed a way forward with Murkowski, Collins, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and a handful of other senators. Tension filled the room as the vote was kept open for more than an hour. The clerks were informed not to announce the names of the senators who had voted, allowing the leaders to urge senators to switch their votes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Quote of the Day

David Weigel on political stories about "what will matter" come election season:

Journalists, in real time, are not the best arbiters of what people will come to believe months later. The fact that one party is spinning an incorrect story does not mean voters will buy that story...The journalist--any journalist--is better equipped to find the truth than he is to explain how someone might lie about it, and how the lie might work.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bellows Catches On

It was a surprisingly active week in the Collins-Bellows race. It started late Friday with the news that Shenna Bellows had managed to outraise Sen. Susan Collins in the 4th quarter of 2013.

That development, taken together with Tuesday's endorsement of Bellows by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), spurred a flurry of Bellows coverage in the national press, culminating in a National Journal piece that called the former American Civil Liberties Union of Maine executive director, "nothing short of a progressive's dream candidate."

(Coverage from local outlets Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News exhibited the usual pathologies, with PPH privileging the senior senator's point of view and BDN waiting four days to deliver a slanted piece built on bizarre assumptions.)

It's striking how quickly Bellows has been able to move from nationally-unknown long shot to progressive standard bearer. This is a function of the ever-accelerating pace of the news cycle, enabled by social media and in particular Twitter--which was not a factor in the 2008 Maine Senate race. But it's also a function of the growth of left-of-center media infrastructure.

Bellows has adeptly leveraged TV, radio and webcast to get her message out. And link by link, retweet by retweet, her candidacy has edged onto the radar of literally tens of thousands of activists, political junkies and potential donors.

Of course, even with PCCC calling her the "Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties" it's far from certain that Bellows and her campaign will emerge as a key progressive focus in 2014. But the odds are exponentially better than they were just seven days ago.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PCCC Endorses Bellows

From their statement:

Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is endorsing Shenna Bellows for the U.S. Senate in a key Senate upset race against Republican incumbent Susan Collins...

"We call Shenna Bellows the 'Elizabeth Warren of civil liberties' because she's campaigning boldly on constitutional freedom and economic populism," said PCCC co-founder Stephanie Taylor. "Like Elizabeth Warren's challenge to former Sen. Scott Brown, many insiders thought Susan Collins was unbeatable. Until now."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

Robert Naiman:

By claiming to support a two-state solution while helping to bolster the occupation, Scarlett Johansson is acting as a Susan Collins for the occupation, pretending to be moderate, while acting to bolster extremists.