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Welcome to the eighth edition of Swing Left Maine’s News Digest. Between now and the November election we will periodically offer concise summaries of news stories related to the state of play in Maine electoral politics, with special attention to the race for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Susan Collins. This marquee race will have consequences far beyond Maine and is being prioritized by both the Republican and Democratic parties because control of the U.S. Senate could well be decided by Maine voters. We will also be keeping an eye on how the presidential contest is playing out in Maine, and on the two congressional races, especially the competitive second congressional district currently represented by freshman Congressman Jared Golden.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate the news, and will likely continue to do so for some time. It will also certainly play a major role in this year’s elections. 

In each issue of this News Digest, to be distributed by email, we will digest news stories, mostly from the Maine press but occasionally from the national media, that we think will be of interest to those working to help Maine swing left. Each story summary will include a link to the full story so you can easily read more about those that interest you. (Note that you may need a subscription to view the full article depending on the source.)

If we miss a story (we can’t read everything, after all!) that you think should be shared, please email either Tom Redburn at nytredburn@gmail.com or Peter Zheutlin at pzheutlin@gmail.com and let us know. Thanks!

• Senator Susan Collins has been a reliable ally for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell in his years-long effort to reshape the federal judiciary. Beyond refusing to even take up the nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nominee chosen by President Barack Obama to replace Antonin Scalia, McConnell, with Collins’s support, has pushed through the nominations of dozens of Trump nominees, especially to the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal (one step below the Supreme Court), many deemed “unqualified” by the American Bar Association. Nearly a third of all U.S. Circuit Court judges are now Trump appointees. With two of the Supreme Court’s more liberal members of advanced age, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 and Stephen Breyer is 81, the importance of flipping the Senate and regaining the White House have never been more critical. In the midst of a pandemic, McConnell is insisting on calling the Senate back into session, not to address the human and economic carnage of the pandemic, but to continue approving Trump appointed justices to the federal courts. (CNN, May 1, 2020.)

• Last week Susan Collins proudly took credit for the Payroll Protection Program, part of the legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic, intended to help small businesses

weather the storm. Now, the public has learned that major public companies, including the Los Angeles Lakers, secured a billion dollars in loans through the program even as hundreds of small businesses, including many in Maine were shut out. (The Lakers have since returned the money.) “Collins called Democrats “‘disgraceful’ when they held up the CARES stimulus package to win concessions that included oversight of a special ‘slush fund’ for corporations,” writes columnist Eleanor Clift in The Daily Beast. “Now she’s on the hot seat for supporting a no-strings-attached bailout and crafting a rescue plan for small business that turns out to be a cash cow for big business.” After a modest bounce in her poll numbers, her overall favorability now stands at 37%. (The Daily Beast, May 1, 2020 and The Washington Post, May 1, 2020.)

• Maine and North Carolina are emerging as the most critical states in the race to determine control of the Senate next year, according to detailed political forecasts issued recently by two highly respected analysts. Of the three Republican seats considered most vulnerable, the hardest to win for Democrats will be the Maine Senate seat held by Susan Collins, according to political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, “because the formula to win there will be different than the surge formulas that will put Democrats over the top in Colorado and Arizona.” Meanwhile, CNN analyst Harry Enten says that Democrats are “the slightest of favorites” to win control of the Senate in the November election, largely because they now have a greater shot at winning Maine and North Carolina, along with more opportunities to pull off surprise victories over Republican incumbents in a number of other states. The only Senate race Democrats are likely to lose is in Alabama. To take full control of the government in Washington, Democrats need a net gain of three Senate seats to go along with defeating Donald Trump. (Niskanen Center, April 28, 2020 and CNN, May 2, 2020.) 

• Even as President Trump says it’s up to each governor to decide how and when to reopen businesses in their states, he undermines them by tweeting support for those who defy state orders. A Bethel, Maine brew pub owner opened his restaurant in defiance of state order, Trump tweeted his support, and the state threatened to lift the restaurant’s liquor and other licenses before he agreed to abide by the order. Nevertheless, late last Friday evening the restaurant remained open. (The Portland Press Herald, May 1, 2020,)

• Despite scattered protests, the vast majority of Maine residents support continuing strict social guidelines at least another month, according to a recent poll that also found 1 in 5 Mainers had already suffered financial hardship due to the virus because of a job loss among a member of their family or household. Gov. Janet Mills was highly popular among Maine residents, with 72 percent voicing approval of her handling of the crisis, compared with 45 percent for President Trump. (The Bangor Daily News, May 1, 2020.)

• Some economic models suggest Maine may be the worst hit state economically as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s demographics (older population) and heavy reliance on “high contact” industries such as tourism and its abundance of small retail businesses contribute to the state’s vulnerability. (The Portland Press Herald, April 24, 2020.)

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