Republican Sen. Susan Collins sparred with her Democrat opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, over the state’s handling of coronavirus during a debate on Thursday, touting her initiatives in seeking economic relief during the pandemic and pointing to Gideon’s failure to lend her support as a state lawmaker.
Maine has remained one of the states least affected by the virus, both in terms of infection rate and the economy, and Collins, one of the original architects of the federal loan program that provided financial relief to small businesses, highlighted during the debate the program’s success in Maine in a time of economic crisis.
“I’m very proud of having been the principal author of the Paycheck Protection Program [PPP]. It has provided some 28,000 small businesses … in the state of Maine with $2.3 billion in forgivable loans,” Collins said.
The incumbent senator discussed how it helped sustain paychecks and benefits for 250,000 Maine workers and also stated that she is pushing for further relief, especially for the hardest-hit businesses in the Pine Tree State such as restaurants and those in the tourism industry.
Collins claimed that, in contrast to her own efforts, Gideon has been an absentee lawmaker. “The legislature has been out of session since March, and [Gideon] has done nothing,” Collins said.
Gideon, the frontrunner in the contentious Senate race, replied that Maine having the second lowest coronavirus infection rate and having made a near full economic recovery is not “an accident” and is “about the leadership that has happened here.”
Gideon said, “Here in the state of Maine, I am proud of us coming together. I’ve never seen Democrats, independents, and Republicans come together so swiftly.”
Collins found Gideon’s response perplexing, saying, “I don’t know how Sara can stand there and claim credit for Maine having one of the lowest COVID infections in the country.”
“I’m very happy about that, but the fact is, she hasn’t been at work for six months, and her only discussion with the Republican leader in the House was just once during that six months, and it was less than a minute,” Collins said.
One of the debate moderators pressed Gideon further on the matter, saying that state Republican leaders have expressed concerns that Gideon has refused to communicate with them.
Gideon argued that she could not “count on one hand” the number of times she has communicated with her GOP counterpart.
“That is simply not true. The number of times that I’ve talked to my fellow Republican leader I cannot even count on one hand. I can’t speak to why those conversations or statements would have been made,” the Maine Democrat said, and then proceeded to point to her track record of collaborating with Republicans during her eight years in the House.
The candidates’ exchanges about managing the pandemic come after Gideon launched an attack ad in June on Collins’ support for the PPP, inaccurately suggesting that Collins helped craft a self-serving bill while abandoning the state’s needs. The Washington Post awarded Gideon “three Pinocchios” for the misleading ad since nearly 80 percent of Maine’s small businesses were aided through the program’s loans.
Thursday’s debate, which was hosted by Maine Public, featured Collins, Gideon, and two independent candidates, and was their third debate to take place before the election on November 3. Collins’ seat has been identified as one of the most vulnerable to the GOP losing.
Gideon has been leading in most polls during the high-profile race, with the latest poll, conducted October 2–6, finding Gideon ahead of Collins by seven points. However, the poll just prior to that, conducted September 25–October 4, was one of the first in recent months to find the candidates in a dead heat, within one point of each other.
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