Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Tom Allen have distinguished themselves during this Senate campaign, perhaps the finest one-on-one battle for political office in recent Maine history.

The candidates who visited this newspaper recently seemed changed by the race, especially Allen. He displayed a striking increase in his forthrightness and candor, particularly when talking about the postal center.

(Hey, we had to ask.)

Sen. Collins was impressive and unusually funny. Though political message-makers paint her as a water-carrier for President Bush, and nowhere near the cross-aisle cooperator she claims, these charges didn’t stick.

Their strong candidacies present a difficult choice: determining which of them should serve Maine as its senator.

Our choice is Collins.

Her experience and accomplishments during her dozen years in the Senate give her the edge over Allen, whose dozen years in the House lack the stellar resume-builders that would support his unseating a popular incumbent.

Plus, the likely potent Democratic majority in Congress after Nov. 4 makes Collins’ return most important, for Maine and the country. Combating the significant challenges facing this nation depends on unity between the parties.

Collins, despite many attacks to the contrary, has a proven record of working with Democrats and bucking her Republican cohorts. While we haven’t agreed with all of her views or votes, this is an admirable political trait, which is a valuable commodity in short supply in Washington.

Which is, ironically, a bipartisan issue. One of our growing concerns during this election has been potential for the wholesale replacement of one ideology with another, when what’s really needed is balance.

We’re a 51-49 nation, as many have said, neither red nor blue.

To this end, we have more confidence in returning Collins to the Senate, to continue serving as a bridge between the parties, than Allen, who would increase chances for a filibuster-proof senatorial majority, which should be avoided.

The last eight years exposed serious flaws in Republican thinking. Yet the last two, with a Democratic-controlled Congress, has shown that party lacks the magic formula as well. The right elixir for this country is a blend of the two.

And we believe Collins is a key ingredient.

Though he hasn’t garnered our endorsement, we believe Allen is an impressive representative who deserves credit for his foresight on certain issues, Iraq especially. His stance against the conflict has proven tragically accurate.

Collins’ achievements, whether in intelligence reform or preserving oversight of Iraqi reconstruction, or even her stewarding immigration reform to benefit the Lewiston Maineiacs, are significant.

Most of all, her centrist nature will benefit Maine and the country, as challenges facing the next administration and Congress continue to mount.

On Nov. 4, we strongly urge voters to support the re-election of Sen. Susan Collins.

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