Sen. Susan Collins may not be saying whether she supports President Trump’s re-election bid, but Maine Democrats are waging a mischievous sign campaign in hope of making the connection in voters’ minds.

Signs reading “Trump Collins 2020” are popping up in parts of Maine. The signs’ red lettering is set against a dark blue background and underneath a strip of stars, just like those offered by the Trump-Pence campaign.

But in a textbook example of the adage “read the fine print,” the required disclaimer tucked away at the bottom of the signs says, “Paid for by the Maine Democratic Party.”

The fine print shows this Trump/Collins sign posted Wednesday on Baxter Boulevard in Portland was paid for by the Maine Democratic Party. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Officials with the Maine Democratic Party did not respond to questions about where and how widely the signs are being distributed among Maine’s already sign-cluttered public rights-of-way. But the intent is clear: Connect Maine’s incumbent Republican senator, who is trailing Democrat Sara Gideon in the polls, with a president who is deeply unpopular in Maine’s more populous areas.

“Senator Collins is refusing to tell Mainers the truth about who she’s voting for but her record is clear – she voted with Trump 94% of the time and has helped confirm 181 of his judicial nominees,” Holly Burke, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, said in a statement Wednesday. “Collins has made a political calculation not to tell Mainers who she’s supporting in this election, but she can’t hide from her support for Donald Trump.”

The Collins campaign dismissed the tactic as a “petty” stunt.

“Sara Gideon and her friends would rather play petty political games than actually do hard work,” Collins campaign spokeswoman Annie Clark said in a statement. “Gideon shut down the legislature more than 200 days ago during a pandemic and has done nothing to help the people of Maine ever since. That’s not leadership.”

It’s the latest skirmish in an overwhelmingly negative campaign that has broken spending records in Maine and is key to the bigger, national battle between the parties over control of the U.S. Senate.

A 24-year incumbent, Collins has spent her career cultivating a reputation as a moderate deal-maker who is willing to push back against the conservatives that dominate the Republican Party in Congress. She has also touted her ability to bring money back to Maine before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That image has taken a severe hit during the past four years, however, amid the nonstop controversy of Trump’s presidency. Collins has criticized or expressed concern about some of Trump’s polarizing and inflammatory rhetoric as well as his administration’s controversial policy decisions on issues such as immigration, environmental regulation and the coronavirus pandemic.

But Gideon and her Democratic allies accuse her of not doing enough to stand up to the president or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or only voting against the pair when her vote no longer matters. Collins’ high-profile votes to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial have fueled opponents’ campaign against an incumbent who has enjoyed support from Democrats and independents during previous re-election campaigns.

Collins has also steadfastly refused to say whether she will vote for Trump this year despite having to field that question from reporters in Maine and Washington, D.C., on a regular basis.

“Not a single constituent has asked me that question, even when I’m speaking to predominantly Republican groups,” Collins said in a recent interview with the Portland Press Herald. “What they want to know is: Can I work with whoever the president is? And I have a long record of being able to do that.”

Trump is widely viewed as perhaps Collins’ biggest vulnerability in 2020, however.

Numerous polls show Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden with a double-digit lead over Trump statewide and even narrowly leading the president in Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won in 2016.

Collins appears to be hesitant to come out against the president – despite opposing his candidacy in 2016 and writing in a different Republican on her ballot – for fear of losing hardcore Trump supporters whose votes could be critical to her re-election in a tight race.

Democrats have been hammering Collins on those non-committal responses for months in hopes of hurting her standing among Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans opposed to Trump.

The “Trump Collins 2020” signs, meanwhile, are aiming to capitalize on Collins’ silence by attempting to link the senator to Trump’s fate on Maine ballots.

Meanwhile, the Collins campaign has its own not-so-subtle messaging that strives to separate the two Republicans in voters’ minds. In a television ad released this week by the campaign, former TV host and Collins supporter Bill Green touts the senator’s experience before adding, “So no matter who you are voting for for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine.”


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