| USA TODAY
Maine race key to flipping control of U.S. Senate
Sara Gideon was leading a local town council less than a decade ago, but the Democrat is tapping anger with President Donald Trump and Sen. Susan Collin’s vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in her push to oust the Republican. (Oct. 22)
WASHINGTON – With less than a week until Election Day, Republican Sen. Susan Collins is trailing Democratic challenger Sara Gideon by a slim margin, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House, leads Collins, 47% to 43%, among likely voters, according to the poll by Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and first reported by USA TODAY. A combined 7% of voters are supporting Independent candidates Lisa Savage (5%) and Max Linn (2%).
Dan Shea, Colby College Government Department chair and lead researcher on the poll, noted there hasn’t been much movement over the past few months between Gideon and Collins, as there are few undecided voters left.
“For all that money, and all this attention, and all those efforts, the electorate seems pretty well stuck where they started several months ago,” he told USA TODAY.
Democrats hope to flip Collins’ seat in an effort to win back the Senate; Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority. Largely due to President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state, Collins is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents this election.
As a result, Collins, who was first elected in 1996, has attempted to distance herself from Trump and has repeatedly criticized the president. She has not said whether she is voting for Trump and said she wrote in former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in 2016.
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Despite Collins’ criticisms of Trump, Democrats have targeted the senator after her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2017 and voting to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial earlier this year. But Collins also was the only Republican to vote no to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court this week and has pointed to her history as a middle-of-the-road politician.
Shea said split-ticket voters are the key for a Collins victory.
“If she doesn’t get a lot of split-ticket voters, voters that will vote for Joe Biden, and then her, she’s going to return to private life,” he said.
Shea also noted ranked-choice voting likely will determine who wins the Senate seat. Savage, who is running on a progressive platform, has encouraged her supporters to rank Gideon as their second choice, using the campaign slogan “Vote Blue Number Two.”
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to mark their preferred candidate as their first choice and then mark a second and third choice. The winner of the election must have more than 50% of the votes, and if no candidate has more than 50%, then it goes to ranked-choice tabulations.
Using a ranked-choice process, the poll found Savage voters selected Gideon as their second choice roughly 51% of the time, Linn 29% of the time and Collins 13% of the time.
“I think it’s entirely likely that the voters for Lisa Savage, this small group of progressive voters, may decide the next senator from Maine,” Shea said.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is leading Trump statewide, 51% to 38%. But in the 2nd Congressional district, the two candidates are single digits apart.
Maine is one of two states that award Electoral College votes based on who wins in each congressional district. In 2016, Trump won the 2nd Congressional district’s lone electoral vote.
Biden has a slight lead over Trump, 46% to 42%, in that district. While 4% say they’re voting for minor party candidates in that district, there are still 9% of likely voters who are undecided. The results are virtually unchanged from a Colby College poll last month that showed Biden at 46% and Trump at 43%.
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Shea said Biden has been making inroads across the state, but he is unsure whether it’s a result of his debate performances or because the coronavirus pandemic is continuing across the country.
“Whereas the Senate race seemed a bit stuck, there seems to be some fluidity in the presidential contest in the second district,” he said.
The poll was conducted Oct. 21-25, with 879 likely voters surveyed. Roughly one-third of those surveyed were called on either landline or cellphones, and the other two-thirds contacted online. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
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