(Bloomberg) -- Senator Susan Collins isn’t used to seeing her popularity under water in her home state, but that’s where the Maine Republican finds herself as she decides whether to run for a fifth term next year.
Collins, 66, says she’s focused on preparing for a re-election bid but won’t decide until the early fall whether she’ll run. Her decision will shape the 2020 fight for the Senate, where she’s part of a shrinking group of lawmakers still eager to tout their record of bipartisan cooperation.
“The divisiveness of our country and the unceasing attacks by dark money groups in Maine have clearly had an impact,” Collins said in an interview at the Capitol. “But I believe that once Mainers really focus on the race and we remind them of my being the No. 1 most bipartisan member of the Senate, and all the accomplishments that I can point to that have directly benefited the state, I’ll be fine.”
The Donald Trump era has been hard on Collins. Her votes for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and against the president’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act have her drawing fire from both parties.
In Morning Consult polls of how senators fare in their home states, Collins had been reliably one of the most popular lawmakers, hitting a 78% approval rating at one point in 2015, a year after she won re-election with 67% of the vote. Now, she’s at 45% approval and 48% disapproval heading into an election year where she’ll be a top target for Democrats hunting for the net four seats they need to pick up to take back control of the Senate.
Democrats have been lining up to challenge her, and Collins’s opponent will surely be well-funded, with millions of dollars already pledged for whoever wins the Democratic primary. The Democrats who’ve announced campaigns so far are Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, former gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, lawyer Bre Kidman, and Jonathan Treacy, a retired Air Force general. Conservative blogger Derek Levasseur is challenging Collins in the Republican primary.
Gideon raised more than $1 million in a week after announcing her campaign in June, while Collins reported raising $2 million in the second quarter and had $5.4 million on hand in her FEC filing.
Collins, first elected to the Senate in 1996, said she’s had stiff competition before.
“In 2008, which was another very tough race where Chuck Schumer had his top pick in a very capable congressman, a very worthy opponent in Tom Allen, at one point that was a 7-point race and I ended up winning by 20,” she said.
Collins regularly laments Trump’s tweeting and the overall level of political discourse.
That includes the “send her back” chants by some Trump supporters at a rally on July 17 when the president mentioned Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Earlier in the week, Trump had tweeted that Omar and three other female Democratic lawmakers should “go back” to the countries they came from rather than criticize the U.S. -- echoing attacks long leveled against minorities and immigrants. All four of the Democrats are women of color and only Omar was born outside the U.S.
“For her to be told to ‘go back’ is truly beyond the pale and extraordinarily offensive,” Collins said. “America’s strength is that we’re a nation of immigrants.”
Collins said, though, that Omar isn’t alone in facing threats growing out of the current bitter political atmosphere in Washington “where the level of discourse is so vile.”
“I had lots of death threats against me last year, including one that’s landed a man in prison for 18 months for threatening to put a 9-millimeter bullet through my brain,” she said. The man in question threatened Collins and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley over their support for Kavanaugh.
Collins said she’d rather be dealing with policy.
“I want to go back to talking about prescription drug prices and issues that I’m working on,” she said.
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