AUBURN — Vowing to protect gun rights and oppose abortion, an Auburn independent announced this week that she is going to run for the U.S. Senate seat held for the past 24 years by Republican Susan Collins.

Linda Wooten, independent U.S. Senate candidate from Auburn Provided

Linda Wooten, a former state GOP committee member from Androscoggin County, said there “has to be a voice for unborn children” so she’s gathering signatures to secure a spot on the Nov. 3 ballot as “the only pro-life candidate” in the race.

“There’s no need for any Maine voter to yet again plug his/her nose and vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’ like before,” Wooten wrote on social media, insisting that voters “deserve to know we now have a better candidate for that important seat in the U.S. Senate.”

“We need choices,” she said Friday.

Collins doesn’t have a challenger within the Republican Party, but four Democrats are vying to take her on, including state House Speaker Sara Gideon, and at least two other independents have already declared their intention to run.

Wooten, 60, is handing out slips of paper with her contact information that ask voters, “Sick of Collins? Scared of Gideon?”

Since the Senate race outcome will be decided by ranked-choice voting, votes for Wooten wouldn’t necessarily wind up hurting Collins if the incumbent gets support in second or third round counts from voters whose first pick winds up with too little to have a chance.

Wooten said, though, that she’s not sure how ranked-choice voting will play into the race. She said she’s running to win.

“It’s a tall order,” she said, but not impossible.

Collins, first elected in 1996, is widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year, with most election experts rating Maine a toss-up as candidates head toward a general election that’s already one of the most costly and vicious in the state’s history.

Collins has long supported abortion rights, to the dismay of voters who want to outlaw the procedure.

For Wooten, it’s a moral issue because, she said, “babies are being dismembered while they’re alive in the womb.”

The other independents in the race are Tiffany Bond, a lawyer from Portland, and Danielle VanHelsing, a trans rights activist from Sangerville. Bond was on the ballot in 2018 in Maine’s 2nd District congressional race, where she got 6% of the vote in the first round to place third in a four-way contest.

For independents to win a spot on the general election ballot, they need to gather 4,000 signatures by June 1, no easy task. Wooten said she’s holding meet-and-greet sessions to get signatures, and she plans to solicit more at big events such as gun shows.

“I think I’ll make it on the ballot,” she said.

In addition to Gideon, Democrats seeking their party’s backing in a June 9 primary are Betsy Sweet, a Hallowell activist; Bre Kidman, a Saco lawyer; and Ross LaJeunesse, a former Google executive from Biddeford.

There is also a Maine Green Independent contender, Lisa Savage of Solon.

Though there are a lot of contenders, Wooten said, all the rest “want to do something about the gun rights issue and they are all pro-choice.” She said she’s the only one firmly committed to defending gun rights and opposing abortion.

Wooten grew up in Portland, earned an associate’s degree, and has worked in a variety of positions, including toll collector on the Maine Turnpike, vocational director and property management.

While often working two jobs to get by, she raised three children as a single parent before marrying Lawrence Wooten, a musician who died last summer.

Wooten said she’s been mulling a possible campaign for a few years but decided to take the plunge only last month.

She said former Republican presidential candidate and ex-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a libertarian, caught her attention and got her seriously interested in politics. Though raised in a Democratic family, she said she switched to the GOP so she could vote for Paul.

Wooten said she got so involved that she wound up on the Maine Republican Party’s platform committee and served from 2012 to 2014 on the GOP state committee as one of Androscoggin County’s representatives.

At a minimum, Wooten said, her candidacy will get people talking about important issues that are too often neglected.

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