On Friday morning, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) ended her flirtation with leaving the Senate to pursue a gubernatorial bid in her state.
“I continue to believe that Congress can, and will, be more productive,” she said in a long speech delivered at a local breakfast with business leaders in the coastal town of Rockport.
Many of the moderate Republican’s colleagues breathed a sigh of relief.
If Collins ran for and won next year’s gubernatorial race, the signal would be clear: The center cannot hold, and the institution belongs only to the partisans of the right and left.
Over the course of 21 years, Collins has risen to the rank of the most influential moderate in the chamber. Collins has never missed a vote this year — nor any year before that, a streak that is now approaching 7,000 consecutive votes. She suffered a stress fracture in her other ankle during a mad dash in heels through the Capitol complex in 2007 to make it in time for a roll call.
She has held sway on the federal purse strings for shipbuilding contracts that are critical to Maine, and on the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
This year, the debate over health care — and her inability to quickly brush past reporters — further pushed her into the spotlight.
Over the summer, she was one of three Republicans who voted to defeat the effort to revamp the Affordable Care Act, disappointing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Collins opposed the health law in 2010 and has previously voted to repeal it. But when faced with the reality of perhaps 100,000 Mainers losing health coverage, Collins criticized both the policy and the process.
All year, the media hounded her, beginning in January when she was forced to use a scooter after a holiday season fall on ice that left her with a broken ankle. To her staff’s dismay, Collins never quite got the handle of the buggy and instead took every last question.
By early spring, she was hobbling along in an ankle boot, before transitioning to a walking cane. The other Republican dissenters, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), could just blow past the press when they wanted.
Despite their differences, McConnell praised Collins on Friday after she announced her decision to remain in the Senate.
Collins’s constituents love their senators and expect big things of them.
In a year that Barack Obama won Maine by more than 17 percentage points, voters sent Collins back to the Senate with more than 61 percent of the vote. Now in her fourth term, she’s the longest serving senator from Maine since her childhood idol, Margaret Chase Smith (R), the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate who rose to fame in the early 1950s challenging Joseph McCarthy and his fanatical wing of Republicans.
And now, Collins, free of the governor’s bug, finds herself in similar fashion as her idol and mentor, Chase Smith and Cohen, a centrist battling her party’s right flank.
It speaks volumes about the frustrations of today’s gridlocked Senate that Collins ever got close to leaving. The decision, she said Friday, came down to this: “my sense of where I can do the most for the people of Maine and for the nation.”