'Call them out': In Maine, Gideon asks voters to punish GOP
CAMDEN, Maine (AP) - The last time Democrat Sara Gideon ran for office, she knocked out her Republican challenger for just under $ 4,299.99.
Two years later, the Maine House spokesman raised $ 63.6 million, a mountain of money poured in from Democrats across the country for one purpose: the defeat of Senator Susan Collins.
It's a mission enthusiastically accepted by Gideon, an aspiring Democrat who cleverly tapped frustrations in Maine and beyond with Collins' ties to President Donald Trump. The 48-year-old now gives Collins the fight of her political life in a race that tests voters' willingness to punish all Republicans for Trump's combative and disruptive leadership - including those like Collins who tried to keep their distance.
Gideon relentlessly replies on the campaign: “You have to stand up against people when they are wrong and you have to call them out. You have to say who we are and what matters. We lost that during this presidency, "Gideon said at a recent town hall-style meeting under a tent in Camden.
As one of several races that could determine which party controls the Senate, the race has raised a staggering amount of money in Maine, a state not used to being a battlefield in a national political proxy war. In total, Gideon and Collins' campaigns, as well as outside allies, had spent or allocated more than $ 110 million on campaign advertising by election day, according to ad tracking company Kantar / CMAG.
All that money didn't move the needle much. In less than two weeks, polls show a close race in which none of the candidates is ahead.
Both women compete for the state's pragmatic voters who value independence and problem-solving. For nearly 25 years, Collins has made this brand a brand that often makes headlines when working on compromises with Democrats.
But Gideon tried to reverse the script of 67-year-old Collins. It is moderate and calls for an expansion of the health system and greater environmental protection. But she has stopped supporting Medicare for All or Green New Deal proposals that were hailed by her party's left flank.
She has also positioned herself as a candidate looking for common ground announcing her job at Maine House, where she rearranged seating and forced Republicans and Democrats to sit side by side.
The best ideas come from working together, Gideon said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
"If we're going to be able to make something, we pretty much have to put it together," she said.
The Republicans have tried to poke holes in Gideon's non-partisan image. When she mentioned during a debate that she was in regular contact with Republican leaders in the legislature, House Republican leader Kathleen Dillingham pushed back. "We haven't spoken in months," she said. And when the Democrats wanted to bring lawmakers back together this summer to do pending deals, Gideon was unable to get the Republicans on board.
Like much of the country, Maine is increasingly party-politically divided, with the southern and coastal parts of the state turning bluer and the rural areas red. Democrats have recently overtaken independents as the largest electoral bloc in the state. Even so, Gideon Collins' support for this group will have to cut back in order to win.
Collins claims it is the real bipartisan option, with years of experience working with members of both parties. She is brimming with relentless "offensive" attacks from Gideon and her allies and their money. "It's not about achieving a political goal. It's just about gaining power," Collins told the AP.
While Collins is an integral part of the state - she often talks about picking potatoes as a teenager in Caribou, not far from the Canadian border - Gideon moved to Maine in 2004 and is "a long way away," as Mainers says of newcomers.
Gideon grew up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, where her father was a pediatrician who emigrated from India and her Armenian-American mother was a psychiatrist.
Gideon settled in Freeport, the home of L. L. Bean, to raise her family with her husband, Benjamin Rogoff Gideon, who was originally from Maine and took her last name. She recognizes her parents' jobs in health care and their commitment to the community as an inspiration for public service.
Though Gideon doesn't talk much about her Indian heritage, Americans of Indian descent view her candidacy much like Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India - with a sense of pride and excitement.
Ashok Nalamalapu, an India-born information technology company owner who now lives in Maine, said he previously voted for Collins. But this time he said he supported Gideon because he believed the Republicans were lost.
"Republicans have turned against immigrants," he said. "We don't like that. Many people are afraid for their lives."
Gideon entered politics in Freeport Town Council in 2009. She was elected to Maine House in 2012 and became a spokesperson four years later. She made a name for herself fighting with then GOP Governor Paul LePage over issues like financing the overdose crisis.
Democratic support quickly merged around Gideon as Collins' vote for Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ensured their race attracted national attention and money.
Collins said she would vote against Trump's youngest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, in fairness to Democrats who were denied a vote on President Barack Obama's candidate during an election year. But Barrett's approval is almost certain even without Collins's vote.
During the campaign, Gideon held more than 30 socially distant "suppers with Sara" under a tent that is being moved from town to town. Wearing jeans, a down jacket, and L.L. bean boots, Gideon mingles easily with the crowd before holding a town hall meeting where he cleverly answers questions from business leaders, health workers, and lobster men.
"I think she might be able to bring some fresh ideas to Washington, which seems really bogged down right now," said Faith Hague, a freelance graphic designer who attended one of the Camden events. "It feels like Susan Collins is following the party line unless her vote is not needed."
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