Bipartisan throne could cost Collins her senate seat

Sen. Susan Collins ranks first in bipartisanship but last in popularity with voters back home...
Sen. Susan Collins ranks first in bipartisanship but last in popularity with voters back home in Maine. (Source: Gray DC) (GRAYDC)
Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 8:43 AM EDT
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As the divide between left and right grows even wider on Capitol Hill, respected researchers say their data suggest Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is closer to the middle than any of her peers.

"I think it’s important to have those of us who try to seek out common ground and actually solve problems," said Collins of the recognition.

The Lugar Center -- led by former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy -- compiled the bi-partisanship index as it does every year.

Collins earned top marks in the Senate by supporting proposals written by Democrats, and getting them to sign on to her ideas. As of early this week, she backed 199 bills authored on the other side of the aisle, and at least one Senator crossed over to get behind 41 of Collins' proposals.

It's her seventh straight year topping the Senate list and her highest score yet.

Collins says her reputation as a bi-partisan bridge builder reflects Maine practicality, her natural moderate tendencies, and conscious efforts to reach across the aisle.

But, she’s also gotten caught in the middle of controversy: a prominent swing vote on impeachment -- voting for additional witnesses but against conviction, Supreme Court confirmations, 2017’s tax cuts, and saving Obamacare.

"Those were all tough decisions and I stand by each of them," she said, "when you are in the middle there are times you take slings and arrows from both sides."

Collins who is up for re-election this year -- is the least popular senator with her own constituents according to the most recent Morning Consult survey, covering the last quarter of 2019.

"She really is in that position of damned if you do, damned if you don’t," said Georgetown University Political Science Professor Mark Rom.

Rom helped develop the Lugar Center’s bi-partisanship formula years ago. He said working across the aisle used to be a badge of honor. While he said it can still make for good policy, it can also be politically toxic.

Rom said, years ago, gerrymandered House districts showed bipartisanship could be counter-productive if a representative needed to worry more about a primary than a general election. Now, he said that disincentive is showing up in the Senate as well.

Maine has a reputation as a moderate, purple state, but Rom points out that individual voters will still tend to tilt substantially red or blue.

"If [Collins] tries to take middle positions, she tends to alienate members from both parties," he said, "[that] may be the very thing that drags her down this Fall."

The most popular Senator in his or her home state -- per Morning Consult -- is also the least bipartisan according to the Lugar Center's research. That distinction belongs to former Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Collins is likely to hold her bipartisan throne as long as she can hang onto her Senate seat.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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