susan collins
Credit: Medill DC/Flickr

I don’t know if Senator Susan Collins of Maine is going to give up her seat to run for governor in Maine. I don’t know because even she doesn’t seem to know. But here’s what I do know. The Democrats would stand a damn good chance of winning her seat the next time it came up for election, and they ought to be hoping against hope that she takes her ball and goes home.

But that’s not the reaction I’m seeing. Here’s the reaction of endangered Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota:

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was watching TV recently when she saw a report that Susan Collins was considering a run for Maine governor and soliciting advice on the decision.

The North Dakota Democrat quickly shot a text message to her Republican colleague: “Don’t do it.”

…“She is [up in the air]. And I think she had hoped to make a decision before this,” said Heitkamp, who herself weighed retirement before announcing this year she’d run for a second term. “I desperately hope she doesn’t run.”

Here’s the reaction of endangered Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri:

“She’s so important to the country here,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “We don’t have enough folks like her.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Collins’s state of Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, is reportedly “begging her not to leave.” And, while endangered Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia isn’t encouraging Collins to stay, that is only because he would “never deny somebody who has that opportunity to do something good for their state.” In other words, he thinks Collins would help the people of Maine if she served as their governor.

I guess these reactions speak well of Collins, at least to the degree that she’s earned the respect of several colleagues from across the aisle. But these Democrats are currently laboring in the minority. Picking up Collins’s seat could easily place them in the majority where they might actually be able to accomplish something.

I understand that moderate Democrats don’t relish the prospect of working in an environment where there are absolutely no moderate Republicans left, but the trade off here seems obvious.

It’s enough to make me think that these Democrats feel safer in the opposition than they do in the majority. And they could be right about that. As it stands, they don’t have to explain away their votes for controversial Democratic legislation. They can oppose a mostly unpopular administration and a very unpopular Republican congressional leadership without a whole lot of risk to themselves.

So, is that what this is? They’d rather have a modestly safer seat than be in a position to actually hold hearings or write legislation?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at