For an optimistic Democrat, this year's Senate race in Maine between Sen. Susan Collins and ACLU Director Shenna Bellows is probably the toughest to call accurately. Collins is a popular, moderate incumbent in a state that's solidly blue and highly elastic with its voting patterns. Collins won by 23% in 2008 as Obama took the state 17%. Bellows comes across as a strong candidate in a small state, yet she is a B-lister running against an incumbent who beat an A-lister by 23% in one of our best years. It almost doesn't compute.
We have a real chance of losing the Senate this year, which means we can't be throwing away races in blue states. But there's a real question of whether or not this one is winnable. I'm going to try to look at both sides of the argument and let the community decide.
Yes, it's winnable
1. Maine is a blue state. If Bellows, a field expert and veteran, can identify Obama voters and get just a large fraction (I'll leave it to the campaign to determine that fraction) of them to vote for her, which I would assume is their natural predisposition, she would win.
2. Maine has a larger than average presence of Green Party voters and Ron Paul supporters. Bellows is probably the best example of a libertarian Democrat there is at the national level, so I think she would be uniquely qualified to appeal to these voters. 3.5% of Maine voters are registered to the Green Party out of about 950,000, and Ron Paul nearly won Maine's Republican Presidential caucus in 2012. It's a unique situation that can be taken advantage of.
3. As mentioned above, Bellows is a field expert who really knows grassroots campaigning, and I think that's where she'll put most of her money. That's how to beat an entrenched incumbent, particularly one who represents an electorate their party is not in sync with.
4. Democrats in the state are already energized to defeat their Tea Party Governor, and we have a strong nominee running against him. A coordinated campaign between Mike Michard and Bellows should help Bellow's numbers.
No, it's not winnable
1. Bellows is a complete unknown in a state that regularly reelects incumbents. This is also her first run for elective office. She is a B-list candidate running against a woman who beat an A-lister by 23%.
2. Bellows is a social libertarian (I believe that's the correct term; please correct me if I'm wrong). This is both outside of the mainstream of the Democratic Party and of Maine, which is a moderate state. Social libertarianism may not play with the voting majority.
3. Collins is a strong incumbent. She is well liked and long serving, and hasn't done anything to piss off voters, which is usually the only way people with that pedigree lose.
4. This race isn't getting national attention. I suppose you could argue that this is a good thing if she's doing a grassroots campaign, but it also means she probably won't be getting financial reinforcements from the DSCC.
I'm completely torn about whether or not this race is winnable. The evidence seems to point towards no, but the race also seems unique enough that it could break precedent. What does everyone think?