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Susan Collins lets loose with her career on the line

Susan Collins generally keeps an even keel. But she’s had it with Sara Gideon.

“She will say or do anything to try to win,” Collins said when asked of her opponent during a wide-ranging 30-minute interview in her Capitol quarters last week. “This race is built on a foundation of falsehoods. And trying to convince the people of Maine that somehow I am no longer the same person.”

Collins wasn’t done as she accused Gideon of “defaming my reputation and attacking my integrity” in their increasingly nasty race. For good measure, the Maine Republican added that Gideon’s campaign was being run as an arm of Chuck Schumer’s Washington operation, scolded Gideon, the statehouse speaker, for not reconvening the legislature amid the pandemic and challenged Gideon’s handling of a sexual misconduct scandal.

Perhaps most pointedly, she suggested that Gideon is from away — a serious charge in a state that can turn its nose up at outsiders.

“I grew up in Caribou, I’ve lived in Bangor for 26 years. My family’s been in Maine for generations. She’s been in Maine for about 15 years and lives in Freeport,” Collins said acidly of Gideon, who was born and raised in Rhode Island. “That’s a big difference in our knowledge of the state.”

The fusillade of charges comes in response to a barrage of anti-Collins ads that portray her as in the pocket of big business, timid in the face of President Donald Trump and worst of all, losing the support of the state’s famously independent voters. The race has featured nearly $90 million in TV ads and will see another $25 million or more over the home stretch, according to an analysis of media buys, making it easily the most expensive race in Maine history.

Collins’ 24 years in the Senate, where she carefully cultivated the image of a pragmatic centrist, is now in serious danger of being washed away under a flood of ads and rising anti-Trump fervor. And if she goes down, the Senate Republican majority may go with her.

Collins has not led a public poll since July and is increasingly viewed by handicappers as an underdog after crushing her competition in her last three election campaigns. Poll averages show Gideon leading by 6 points, though a Bangor Daily News poll on Tuesday showed her trailing by just one point. The state uses ranked-choice voting, adding to the complexities in the race.

Collins would not concede anything, only offering that the race is “essentially tied.”

“It’s very frustrating because it’s backed by so much money. And it’s been going on for two years now: Non-stop negative ads. That eventually it pulls you down,” Collins said of the campaign against her. “What’s amazing is that I’m still going to win.”

Gideon’s campaign declined to respond to Collins in an interview, asserting her schedule was too packed. Typically, challengers to high-profile senators will do any media they can get to boost their message, but Gideon seems happy not to make waves.