A version of this story was first published by member station Maine Public.
Over the course of nearly three decades, Republican Sen. Susan Collins has crafted a centrist brand that once made her one of the most popular politicians in the country.
Now, Collins is the last Republican member of Congress from New England. And a combination of controversial votes and increasingly nationalized politics has her locked in the fight of her political career.
In mid-September, Collins’ campaign bus rolled through Rangeley and Farmington for a series of appearances with supporters. She made sure to bring up Height of Land, a pull-off on the Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway with spectacular views of the nearby lakes and mountains.
“You know, I helped get almost $3 million for that,” Collins said.
And earlier this month, Collins toured downtown Waterville, where Portland Pie Co. owner Patrick Mulligan thanked her for co-authoring a coronavirus relief program that provided forgivable loans to small businesses.
“I’m trying to get another round going for those that are the hardest hit,” Collins said to Mulligan.
These kind of visits have long been standard for the 67-year-old Collins, but they’ve taken on heightened significance in this election.
“People still look at the impact on their own lives,” she said.
In Collins’ view, Mainers have benefited from her longevity, her deep roots in Maine and the power she wields as a member of the Appropriations Committee and its transportation subcommittee. She said all of that will be lost if voters elect her leading challenger, Democrat Sara Gideon, who she said lacks her experience and connection to the state.
“Nor would she have the clout and seniority that I have to bring much needed assistance into our state,” she said.
Collins’ focus on experience is meant to draw a contrast with the 48-year-old Gideon, a two-term speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and Rhode Island native who began the race as a relatively unknown political figure.
But the local focus is also a pivot from the national politics that have damaged Collins’ once enviable popularity and now has her running in a virtual dead heat with a Democrat who has never run for statewide office.
Collins attributes her position in the polls to a messaging campaign that she said has distorted her record and attacked her integrity.
“And I think after two years of that pummeling that unfortunately it has had an impact,” she said.
It’s true that Democrats and liberal interest groups have unleashed an expensive and sustained campaign against Collins. But it’s also true that Republican groups have responded in-kind: Outside spending for and against Gideon is almost equal to that for and against Collins, according to the latest data by the Center for Responsive Politics.
And none of the spending would have much of an effect if there wasn’t already trouble in Collins’ once dominant coalition of voters. But there is.
For Democratic voters — and Democratic women in particular — Collins’ announcement on Oct. 5, 2018, that she would vote to confirm Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh marked a turning point.
The pressure campaign directed at Collins by liberal groups before the Kavanaugh vote was intense. She has been a supporter of abortion rights since she first ran for the Senate in 1996.
Her abortion stance appealed to groups like Planned Parenthood, which sometimes ran ads thanking her for votes in the Senate. But there’s no more gratitude from Planned Parenthood; the group has already spent $1 million trying to defeat Collins.
And its former director, Cecile Richards, worked alongside an activist group that pulled in nearly $4 million in crowdfunding inspired by Collins’ Kavanaugh vote.
“When Sen. Collins cast one of the deciding votes to give a man credibly accused of sexual assault a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, she sent an unmistakable message. She doesn’t have the courage to stand up to Donald Trump,” Richards said during a meeting with activists this summer when the $4 million was transferred to Gideon’s campaign — a move that Collins has described as a bribe.
Disenchantment among abortion-rights supporters overshadowed the pressure Collins faced from members of her own party, which had rallied behind Trump’s 2016 vow to install conservative, pro-life judges on the high court. It resurfaced recently when Collins announced that she will oppose Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett if the confirmation vote is held before the election.
“People are calling me and telling me they just can’t vote for her anymore. These are all … Republicans, mostly from the conservative part of the party,” former Gov. Paul LePage recently told Portland radio station WGAN.
LePage claims he’s telling disenchanted conservative hardliners that they have to support Collins because she could be key to Republicans holding the U.S. Senate. His defense of Collins might seem transactional, and it’s definitely a sharp turn from four years ago.
“I think Susan Collins is done in Maine. I think her decision to go against the wishes of the Maine Republicans really cooked her goose,” LePage told WGAN in 2016, reacting to Collins’ decision to announce she could not support President Trump, which she explained on PBS NewsHour.
“He lacks the temperament, the judgment, the knowledge and the self-restraint to be our next president,” she said.
Collins’ assessment was cheered by Democrats, but it stoked the ire of Maine conservatives with whom she has long had an uneasy alliance. Those strains were especially acute during the first year the Trump presidency and after Collins cast one of the deciding votes to oppose the GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Her vote on the ACA appeal made her a temporary hero of the left and the recipient of glowing portraits by liberal columnists, spurring talk that she might return to Maine and run for governor although she ultimately decided not to.
Collins said she doesn’t second-guess the decision not to run for governor, and said she isn’t dwelling on the halcyon days when her popularity was at its apex. Instead, she attributes her current situation to the multi-million dollar campaign to unseat her.
“Tens of millions of dollars in dark money ads that lie about my record, defame my reputation, mislead people about who I am and attack my integrity,” she said.
Many of those ads link Collins with the president she didn’t vote for in 2016, casting her as an avatar for Republicans’ supine response to Trump’s divisive conduct.
Collins earlier this year voted to acquit the president of impeachment charges. But she won’t say whether she supports the president this year and she blasted Democrats for describing her as a “stooge” for male leaders of her party.
“The idea that Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump dictates — or any other man — dictates my vote is the height of sexism,” she said.
Collins said she’s confident Maine voters will see through it and make a distinction between their feelings about Trump and her.
Her bid for a fifth term might just depend on it.
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Snap election averted as Liberal government survives confidence vote in Commons – CBC.ca
Canadians will not be heading to the polls for a snap fall election now that the Liberal government has survived a confidence vote on a Conservative motion to create a special committee to probe the government’s ethics and pandemic spending.
MPs voted 180-146 to defeat the opposition motion.
Earlier today, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that his party would not give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an “excuse” to send Canadians to the polls in the middle of a global pandemic — signalling that Trudeau’s government would survive today’s confidence vote.
In a news conference just two hours before a crucial confidence vote, Singh declined to say exactly how his MPs would vote or whether they might abstain.
“We are voting for Canadians. We are voting against an election,” he said.
Singh said the NDP will still work to get answers on the WE Charity scandal through the Commons ethics committee, and that his party will push the government for more pandemic support for Canadians.
“People need help right now. They need confidence in the future. They’re not looking for an election,” he said.
“So New Democrats will not give Prime Minister Trudeau the election he’s looking for. We’re not going to be used as an excuse or a cover. We’re going to continue to do the work that we need to do.”
The Bloc Québécois had already confirmed it will support the Conservative motion, while the Green Party indicated that its three MPs would vote against the motion.
The vote is expected to happen around 3:15 p.m. ET and CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.
The opposition day motion would have created a special committee to probe the Trudeau government’s ethics and spending in response to the pandemic — including the controversial WE Charity contract to administer a student volunteer grant program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not recuse himself from talks on the agreement, even though several of his family members had been paid for speaking engagements by the organization.
The Liberal government has declared the vote on the Conservative motion a matter of confidence that could trigger an election — a high-stakes move that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called a “farce.”
In a news conference before the vote, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said if the motion doesn’t pass, he would continue to work with other parties to hold the government to account. He criticized the government and Trudeau for framing the vote as a confidence matter.
“His designation of this vote as a confidence vote shows that he’s willing to put the electoral fortunes of the Liberal Party ahead of the health, safety and well-being of Canadians,” he said.
“Most Canadians would think that’s unacceptable.”
WATCH / Erin O’Toole on confidence vote:
Speaking to reporters after the Liberal caucus meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government needs the confidence of the House to do its job.
“I really believe at the end of the day common sense will prevail and we’re going to get through this,” she said.
Freeland also said that legislation for several new pandemic supports for Canadians and businesses needs to be passed and an election could jeopardize that.
WATCH / Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on possible election:
Heading into their weekly caucus meeting this morning, NDP MPs said they had not yet decided on a path forward and would talk about how to proceed behind closed doors.
“At the end of the day we have a lot of moving parts and we’re still in a pandemic and we’re still committed to fighting for Canadians and we’re going to continue to do that,” said Ontario NDP MP Matthew Green.
“We have to look at what all the variables are going in to this discussion and do what’s best for the country.”
Asked by reporters if the NDP had an obligation to support the Conservative motion, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said, “There’s many ways to skin a cat, my friends.”
WATCH / NDP MPs on today’s confidence vote:
Conservative House leader Gérard Deltell said the ethical questions surrounding the government require a special committee with a clear mandate. He said it’s the “duty” of opposition parties to hold the government to account.
“This is what the issue is all about with this motion, and what we see right now is a prime minister who will do whatever it takes to call an election,” he said.
“The only Canadian who would like to have an election today is the prime minister. The only Canadian who would like to freeze the government for a few months is the prime minister by calling an election.”
The Conservatives amended the original motion to state that voting to launch the committee should not be considered grounds to order an election.
It also dropped the “anti-corruption committee” label it initially proposed.
Bloc Québécois House leader Alain Therrien said the WE Charity issue is so complex that it requires a special committee to get answers.
He said the Liberals’ “scorched-earth” approach to politics is the product of a “club of cronyism” and renders compromise impossible.
He also criticized the NDP, suggesting the party’s MPs have obediently followed Liberal demands.
“The NDP have acted in the last little while a little like the Liberals’ lap dog,” he said.
‘Unwelcome drama’: Paul
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul issued a statement urging the parties to cool their jets, calling the brinkmanship “unwelcome drama.”
“The Liberal and Conservative parties’ high-stakes, high-tech game of chicken can have no winner,” she said.
“They should leave such games outside of Parliament, and focus on the urgent needs of people in Canada. I ask members of Parliament to dial down the rhetoric, which is not in keeping with the seriousness of this unprecedented moment, so that we can get back to working on the critical matters at hand.”
Strategies Can Help Teach Students to Discuss Politics – NC State News
The election is underway and the holidays are around the corner, so it’s good news that researchers are working on strategies to help adults and young people productively discuss political differences.
In the journal Social Education, researchers from NC State described efforts to launch an event series called “Dinner with Democracy” to get students involved in political discussions and help train future social studies teachers. This year, the event will be held virtually Oct. 21. Through these events, researchers hope to help students develop skills valuable to life in a democracy.
“Democracy is grounded on the idea that we will talk to each other and work through our problems,” said the study’s lead author Paula McAvoy, an assistant professor in NC State’s College of Education. “So my research has been about engaging students in controversial political issues in the classroom.”
McAvoy was lead author of the paper, which was co-authored by Christy Byrd, assistant professor at NC State, and graduate students Arine Lowery and Nada Wafa. The Abstract sat down with McAvoy to talk about engaging students in political discussions in advance of the virtual Dinner with Democracy event.
The Abstract: You talk about disagreement being a fundamental part of democracy. What do you mean?
McAvoy: Democracies are founded on the idea that people should be given an opportunity to participate in the creation of the laws that govern them and that people can work together to come up with solutions that they can all live with. Inherent in that is you’re going to disagree. We have to get used to the idea that we disagree, there are good reasons to disagree and we need to learn how to give reasons to each other and hear each other.
TA: Why did you want to highlight Dinner with Democracy?
McAvoy: What I liked with Dinner with Democracy is that it’s a multigenerational approach to not only to help young people talk about issues in the classroom, but also to help parents join in the discussion. We can show how we can talk about our differences, hear each other and be willing to be kind to one another.
TA: How did this come about?
McAvoy: Two teachers heard about the concept at the North Carolina Council for Social Studies conference from a teacher who had students find an adult to have a meal with, talk about political issues with that person and report back. After hearing that, the two teachers decided to make it a school event by inviting parents and students to a potluck where students presented discussion questions for each course of the meal. We took that idea to NC State and made it a public event for middle and high school students, teachers, NC State students, faculty and the community.
TA: What was the structure of your event?
McAvoy: In an event like this, you want people to be able to listen to each other. We did several rounds of small group discussions with a facilitator that began with a three-to-five minute setup of the question they were going to talk about.
At the beginning of the discussion, everyone shared personal reflections. The rule was that everyone had to listen to your answer without interrupting or arguing; everyone had to hear from everyone in the group. That did two things: It first promotes the idea that we’re all going to listen to one another, and second, it puts everyone’s humanity into the discussion so we know where we are coming from. So it promotes empathy. You bring yourself first, and political views second.
Then we used a discussion strategy called the “Tug-of-War,” which asks the group to collectively think of reasons for and against an issue. That puts everyone on the same side – we’re working together to come up reasons for and against.
The last thing you do is try to explain what you think about the issue.
TA: How did participants respond?
McAvoy: I was very happy that in the evaluations, the participants said they felt their discussions were productive and fair and there was a sense of civility.
TA: What lessons can teachers and students learn from this?
McAvoy: There are different ways to have classroom discussions or engage with students.
One thing that’s tempting is to have students debate. A debate is what you associate with elections. In today’s polarized climate, the debate format exacerbates our differences, and it teaches people to get a view and hold onto it. You teach people to become entrenched in their views.
The activities that we did promote deliberation, which is a different type of discussion. That’s what we model in Dinner with Democracy. Deliberation is about trying to come to a common understanding rather than winning.
In the classroom today, I hear from a lot of teachers that parents are leery, teachers are leery; they don’t want things to get out of hand. We are trying to show that being very careful and intentional about how you are going to have your discussions is essential for having them go well.
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