Susan Collins Wins in Maine, Denying Democrats a Crucial Senate Pickup

BANGOR, Me. — Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, claimed victory on Wednesday in her bid to secure a fifth term, beating back an avalanche of Democratic money and liberal anger in the most difficult race of her career to defeat Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and strengthen the party’s hold on the Senate.

Her triumph, reported by The Associated Press, preserved Ms. Collins’s status as the only remaining New England Republican in Congress. She became the first senator in the state’s history to be directly chosen by voters for a fifth term in the upper chamber, dashing Democratic hopes of a crucial pickup as their ambitions of a Senate takeover hung by a thread.

Ms. Collins, 67, who had trailed in most public polling this year, overcame the liberal groundswell in part by centering her campaign on local issues and distancing herself from Mr. Trump, even declining to say whether she would vote for him.

Toiling to preserve an image she has carefully cultivated as an independent-minded moderate, she reminded voters of her accomplishments for the state and emphasized her likely ascendance to the helm of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal spending, should Republicans keep the majority, as well as her personal relationships in the state.

“I feel that this is an affirmation of the work that I’m doing in Washington to fight hard every day, to fight hard every day for the people of Maine,” Ms. Collins said to a small crowd of masked supporters cheering in a Hilton Garden Inn parking lot, shortly after Ms. Gideon called her to concede the race. “I will serve you with all my heart, I will work hard for you, each and every day, and together we will come together to work on the problems and challenges that are facing our state and our country.”

National Democrats, furious after Ms. Collins became a key vote in support of Mr. Trump’s tax plan and the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, had singled out Ms. Collins as a top target on their path to reclaiming the Senate majority. As a result, the race had become the most expensive in Maine history, with national donors flooding the state with tens of millions of dollars and an onslaught of negative campaign ads.

Ms. Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s House, had sought to frame the campaign as a referendum on Republicans, painting Ms. Collins as out of touch with the state and in lock-step with Mr. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. She capitalized on the growing polarization of the state in the Trump era, as Democrats and independent voters became increasingly frustrated with Ms. Collins’s pattern of expressing distress at the president’s language and actions, only to side with her party on crucial issues.

But Ms. Gideon ultimately fell short, failing to keep Ms. Collins from attaining the 50 percent threshold required for outright victory under the state’s ranked choice voting system. Republicans had feared that the system could harm her chances, potentially consolidating liberal opposition to her given the presence in the race of a progressive, Lisa Savage, who had openly encouraged her supporters to list Ms. Gideon as their second choice.

“Mainers rallied around our campaign in a way I’ve never seen before, and while we came up short, I do believe Mainers in every corner of this state are ready to continue to work together to make a difference,” Ms. Gideon said in a somber concession speech. “Regardless of the result, together we built a movement that will help us make progress for years to come.”

The pandemic offered an opportunity for Ms. Collins to counter the narrative by highlighting her work with Democrats, as she championed what would become a popular federal loan program to stabilize thousands of small businesses across the country in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in the spring. The creation of the Paycheck Protection Program, along with a series of measures to overhaul and replenish it, also allowed Ms. Collins to draw a sharp contrast with Ms. Gideon, who adjourned the state’s legislature in March and failed to secure bipartisan support to reconvene it.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s election, Ms. Collins crisscrossed the state in her campaign bus, visiting small businesses that survived the pandemic by taking advantage of the loan program and Maine towns that had benefited from her work on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I am taking the same approach that I have always taken,” Ms. Collins told reporters on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, called her, she said, seeking a meeting in the coming days to hammer out the persistent impasse over another coronavirus relief package.

Ms. Collins, whose vote for Justice Kavanaugh spurred critics to amass nearly $4 million for her eventual opponent, further burnished her credentials as a moderate willing to break with her party when Senate Republicans rushed to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left in September by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ms. Collins became one of only two senators in her party to object to moving forward to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the election, and the only one to vote “no.” She pointed to her objections after her fellow Republicans stonewalled Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in 2016, when they insisted such a seat should not be filled in an election year.

With Republicans otherwise nearly united on moving forward, they did not need her vote anyway, and the unusual circumstances allowed Ms. Collins, who supports abortion rights, to sidestep the question of whether to confirm a nominee who personally opposed abortion.

Democrats scoffed at the vote, arguing that it did little to affect the process and used the vote to try to boost Ms. Gideon’s chances in the final days of the campaign.

But ultimately, to a soundtrack of “Still the One” by Orleans and “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John blaring in the snowy hotel parking lot, it was Ms. Collins who prevailed.