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Maine Sen. Collins Runs For Reelection Amid Trump Impeachment Probe

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the senators who is in the toughest spot if President Trump is impeached and a trial begins in the Senate is Maine Republican Susan Collins. She's facing a potentially brutal reelection campaign in a state that split its support between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. As Maine Public Radio's Steve Mistler reports, Collins might soon have to choose between her reputation as a centrist and her political identity as a Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWBELLS)

STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: Maine's high-profile politicians often go to the Grand Parade at the Fryeburg Fair. But Susan Collins didn't make it this year. Still, she was on the mind of voters, like Ron Richardson (ph) a registered Republican.

RON RICHARDSON: No. No. She needs to go. We need new blood, you know? New ideas.

MISTLER: He says he's voted for Collins in each of her three previous reelection bids. Landslide victories often attributed to her independent streak. Richardson also voted for Trump in 2016, but says he won't next year.

RICHARDSON: I think he's a crook, to be honest with you. I believe that's going to come out sooner or later, that he really does these things they're accusing him of. Would I vote for him again today? No. Nope.

MISTLER: Further down the track, Larry Tanguay (ph) of Windham, an independent, says he, too, has grown weary of the president's daily drama.

LARRY TANGUAY: It's sickening. Every day, you watch the news, and it's all they talk about. It's the first thing you see, you know?

MISTLER: Tanguay has also voted for Collins before because she's bucked her party from time to time. He says impeaching Trump is a true test of political courage, one that could change how he views Collins if she doesn't pass it.

TANGUAY: Maybe it's time for a change. You know? But I've got to see what the rest of the year brings here during this impeachment thing.

MISTLER: Collins has been in this position before. She was in the Senate in 1999 during then-President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. And she broke with fellow Republicans to vote against convicting Clinton. Collins also hasn't been afraid of criticizing Trump, like she did in this interview with "PBS NewsHour" before the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

SUSAN COLLINS: And it was that conclusion that has led me to believe that he lacks the temperament, the judgment, the knowledge and the self-restraint to be our next president.

MISTLER: Collins has generally moderated her criticism since Trump's election. Although, yesterday she did condemn his announcement that he was pulling back troops from Syria. In an interview with Maine Public Radio over the weekend, she said Trump shouldn't have publicly asked Ukraine and China to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COLLINS: That is clearly wrong. It is inappropriate. I would agree with Mitt Romney's word of it's appalling.

MISTLER: But Maine is closely divided politically, and she needs Democrats and independents to support her. Collins has tried to avoid the controversy as much as possible, saying that she would be a potential juror if the Senate tries Trump. And her biggest challenge may come from her own party. Wearing a sweatshirt that says Trump 2020, Make Liberals Cry Again, Jenny Foster (ph) says she expects loyalty from Collins.

JENNY FOSTER: She needs to really side with the Republicans. Don't go middle. Don't go the other side. You know, 'cause I consider that being a traitor.

MISTLER: Unlike Mitt Romney or some of Trump's other critics, so far, the president has avoided going after Collins. But she will remain under pressure to take a side, and exactly at the time when it could cost her. For NPR News, I'm Steve Mistler in Portland, Maine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.