LEWISTON — Androscoggin County’s Democratic faithful flocked to Forage Market on Lisbon Street on Wednesday cheering on Shenna Bellows, who made a 40-minute stump stop in the city announcing her campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Bellows, of Manchester and the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, is hoping to unseat the Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Bellows told the group of about 40, including several state lawmakers, that she knows the path ahead is a steep one.

Re-elected in 2008, Collins carried Lewiston over Democratic challenger Tom Allen with 54 percent of the vote.

“There’s freedom in being the underdog, to stand up for one’s principles,” Bellows said. “No one is going to agree with me 100 percent of the time, not even my husband, and we’re newlyweds. But voters will always know where I stand, and I will always listen respectfully to other points of view.”

Bellows who has gained statewide political attention over the years for her work on civil rights issues, including passage of a same-sex marriage referendum in 2010 and the overturn of a law that prohibited same-day voter registration in Maine, said she respected Collins’ work ethic.

Recently she gained respect from liberals and conservatives for her work on a bill in Augusta that required law enforcement to get warrants to obtain geolocation data from cellphones. That bill passed into law after the Legislature overrode a Gov. Paul LePage veto of the measure.

Another bill the ACLU of Maine worked on that would have required warrants for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones by law enforcement passed the Legislature but was vetoed by LePage. A veto the Legislature was unable to overturn.

“In the last two decades we’ve experienced a Constitutional crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis,” Bellows said.

She said it wasn’t difficult to launch her campaign even as Collins was being praised by national pundits and her Senate colleagues for helping broker a compromise in Washington that brought to an end a two-week federal government shutdown.

“When politicians in Washington congratulate themselves for doing what decent human beings would do three weeks too late at a cost of billions of dollars to our economy, something is wrong, and we need change,” Bellows said.

Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins in Washington, said the 2014 election is more than a year away and Collins was focusing on her work in the U.S. Senate.

“She is focused on doing the job that Mainers elected her to do, which includes working to create jobs and grow the economy,” Kelley said. “Most recently, she led a successful, bipartisan effort that helped end the government shutdown, get people back to work, and avoid default on our nation’s debt. She believes that she can best serve the people of Maine by continuing to work hard for them each and every day.”

Bellows told supporters earlier she was running for Congress because she believes, “We need more courage and more honesty.”

So far, Bellows is the only Democrat to announce a campaign against Collins.

The stop in Lewiston on Wednesday was the third in a four-city tour that included Ellsworth, Portland and Eliot

Bellows was raised in Hancock, Maine, the daughter of a carpenter and a nurse. She said if elected she would work to repeal laws that have “trampled on the U.S. Constitution” including the U.S. Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2011.

She also said her parents’ blue-collar work ethic “have inspired me my entire life.”

Also joining her in Lewiston was her grandfather, Bill Bellows of Topsham, a retired teacher and a World War II veteran. 

Bellows seems undaunted by Collins’ popularity in Maine, and said she came to Lewiston as part of a multi-city tour on the first official day of her campaign because she recognizes the city’s importance in winning a statewide campaign. 

“A theme that runs through my entire career is a liking for big challenges,” Bellows said. “And a dedication to making the world a better place.”

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