Internal memo shows Collins in commanding position in GOP primary for governor

An internal memo for Sen. Susan Collins, that I obtained and confirmed as authentic, shows that Maine’s senior senator remains overwhelmingly popular and holds a commanding lead in any potential gubernatorial match-up.

The memo, which was produced by Collins’ pollster Hans Kaiser based on statewide polling conducted Sept. 17-21, shows 70 percent of Maine voters have a favorable opinion of the senator, compared to just 21 percent who view her unfavorably.

Collins’ job approval numbers are even higher. Seventy-five percent of Mainers say they approve of the job she’s doing, while just 19 percent disapprove. Five percent say they don’t know (I have to wonder who the heck these people are). Job approval numbers are often a predictor of electoral support.

The poll comes as one of the biggest political questions in the state goes unanswered: Will Collins leave the US Senate, where she is a powerful and pivotal player, to run for governor. Collins has said that she will announce her decision next week.

I’ve been, and remain, skeptical that Collins would trade Washington for Augusta, but the new polling information circulating in both DC and Maine suggests she is seriously considering it – and frankly would have little trouble dispatching opponents in a Republican primary, despite speculation to the contrary.

Sen. Susan Collins. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

During one of his regular appearances on talk radio, Republican Gov. Paul LePage gave his political analysis of Collins’ standing in the Republican Party. “I will say this right away. I do firmly believe deep down in my heart that Susan Collins, in order to become the governor of the state of Maine, will have to run as an independent, and she’s highly unlike to win a Republican primary.”

That doesn’t appear to be true.

According to the Kaiser memo, Collins’ job approval numbers are above 60 percent for Republicans, Democrats and independents. While her support among Democrats and independents wouldn’t help her in a Republican primary, she appears to be in the catbird seat there as well.

“Should Susan decide to run for governor these numbers show her in a very solid position as she leads her next closest competitor in the Republican primary by a better than 3:1 margin and two other competitors by even larger margins.”

I have not seen the actual poll results, but the authenticity of the data has been confirmed by someone who has seen the poll. That person also described the head-to-head match-ups in more detail.

Collins obliterates the Republican field out of the gate. Former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew is a distant second with a negative favorability rating. Other Republican contenders are essentially unknown.

The poll also tested Collins in a general election matchup against at least one Democrat. From my perspective, the news there isn’t good. She has a commanding lead. (I’m supporting Democratic candidate Jim Boyle, and consider most of the people running for the Democratic nomination friends. The poll did not test Boyle, I’m told.)

According to the memo, Collins starts above 50 percent in head-to-head ballot tests in the general, a critical benchmark for any candidate.

“These number show Susan Collins in a very strong position among voters in Maine, one that transcends party lines and demonstrates a great appreciation for the job she is doing in the US Senate. Should she decide to run for governor these numbers suggest she would be extremely difficult to beat,” the memo said

Collins appears to be unscathed by LePage’s attacksincluding an email to Maine Republicans – and by critical remarks from Republican US Rep. Bruce Poliquin, recorded at a closed-door GOP event.

The poll also shows, according to the person who has seen it but asked to remain unidentified because they haven’t been cleared to talk about the information, in a potential match up between Maine’s other US senator, Angus King, and LePage, King holds a commanding lead, with more than 60 percent of voters backing the independent.

Voters, it appears, side with King and Collins, not LePage.

Statewide research of this nature isn’t cheap. A 500-person sample, using live callers and a cellphone supplement, can easily cost $30,000, and depending upon the length could climb to $50,000 to $60,000. Memos like this one are often produced for donors as a way to solicit contributions and demonstrate a candidate’s viability.

I can’t remember a time when Collins has released internal polling before, so it seems unlikely these numbers will be put out to the general public, but the fact that the poll was done at all suggests that Collins is seriously considering a run.

It’s early and polling isn’t predictive. It’s a snapshot in time. But if Collins decides to stay in the US Senate, fear of a Republican gubernatorial primary doesn’t appear to be the reason.

The poll suggests Maine Republicans aren’t as extreme as LePage believes, and others fear.


David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at