By Tom Lamia
In September I wrote of Gender Politics as shorthand to describe the Maine U.S. Senate race between Susan Collins and Sara Gideon. I spoke of Collins’ long and respected service in the Senate and of Gideon’s relatively short political history (and residence) in Maine. Despite these positive indications for Collins’ re-election, I noted that Gideon was ahead in the race and that the wind was at her back. I noted Collins’ deep roots in Maine and its Republican Party, advantages that could yet give her a win.
An update on this race is needed. There continues to be an unprecedented amount of money in this race. The money is coming in from outside the state for both candidates. The winner in the race will be the winning candidate, of course, but the candidates’ parties also have a lot at stake. A Collins win would be a material addition to Republican prospects for maintaining its Senate majority and continuing Mitch McConnell’s often-abused power to control Senate procedure. It is the power that goes with this prize that accounts for the money bonanza that is going into television ads. Those ads are overwhelmingly negative. This is the standard practice among candidates today as political consultants have found negative ads to be highly effective.
Maine is a small state in population (1.3 million), most of which is clustered along its Atlantic coast. The remainder is spread widely in a grand sweep of geography extending to the Canadian border. Maine has only two congressional districts. The First District covers the southern coastal region and has a Democratic representative. The Second District takes in the western and northern parts of the state. It, too, has a Democratic representative at the moment, but has been historically a Republican district. Susan Collins is from Caribou, a small city in the Second District. Sara Gideon lives in the First District. These differences play their parts in the Senate race.
There are racial and ethnic considerations, but these are far down the list of voting blocs that would justify massive campaign spending by either party. There was a time (1972) when a candidate from Maine could be irretrievably smeared by evidence that he had used the word “Canuck” to refer to fellow Mainers, or some part of them. That candidate was Edmund Muskie and the “evidence” was a fake interview provided by a dirty trickster. Today it is television ads that seem to be absorbing this out of state money. Those ads are being run by both candidates in prime time in such quantity that one often sees a Collins ad, followed by a Gideon ad, followed by another Collins ad, followed by yet another Gideon ad. All negative. The candidates don’t seem to like it (they complain about the ads when they are interviewed on public radio, making it plain that they have been hurt by them and are uncomfortable with them), but they continue.
Now, an update: after a month or so of Gideon’s lead holding or increasing, Collins is creeping up in the polls. Former Republican Senator William Cohen, who served Democratic President Bill Clinton as Defense Minister, has endorsed Collins. So have former President George W. Bush, current Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Despite her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice and her failure to be critical of President Trump on some of his most controversial statements and actions, moderate Republicans who are Trump critics support Collins. This is in line with my September conclusion that Collins “may still win, because her Republican roots are solid and broad.”
Gideon is not going away. She has the support of the national Democratic Party and access to its fund-raising channels. She also has the respect of Maine Democrats who have seen Gideon’s skills as a negotiator and organizer in her brief time as Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. She has defended herself effectively against Collins’ attacks and, this week, scored a major endorsement from the Portland Press Herald, which made the essential point that Maine needed a change in Senate control in order to get its issues voted on, approved and signed into law.
Now, a “reality check.” There is a lot of hand wringing and dire predictions of the death of a great American city. New York is not going out of business; it is not even grievously damaged. It has lost building occupants, business and residential, and it has seen a few major losses in core industries, among which are several that are woven into the fabric of the West Village. I speak of entertainment sectors that are closed to live audiences, tourism in general that was swept away by fear of travel and crowds, high end gatherings of several types where New York was always the first choice as a venue for style, international impact, capacity, elegance and convenience. All of those will come back, better and undiminished. The excitement of this city has never left it in former dark times; not in the ‘80s when prospects for recovery from the financial crisis were bleak and required a municipal and regional financial reorganization for recovery. Not in the aftermath of 9/11 and the loss of 3,000 lives, and not in the ‘60s and ‘70s when crime was endemic in the city, to the point of its having an image of lawlessness and personal physical risk on its streets.
How do I know this and why do I say it? Because we humans are, above all, social animals that seek the center of the cultural storm where we can have a hand in making it, improving it, saving it and enjoying the result. From J.P. Morgan and Jacob Schiff, from Willa Cather and Theodore Dreiser, from Donald Trump and Mike Bloomberg, from Mario Cuomo to Rudy Giuliani, there has been here in New York a chemistry that excites and builds through the ability to be close together and talk about what works and what doesn’t and to make one’s mark. It’s all in those Sinatra songs and it’s not going away.