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.
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.