Shenna Bellows, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and a well-respected political player in Augusta for years, will challenge three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Her candidacy had been rumored for weeks, but Bellows, a Democrat, confirmed Tuesday that she has sent her initial paperwork to the Federal Elections Commission. She plans to launch her campaign officially Oct. 23 at events in Ellsworth and Portland.
Bellows, 38, of Manchester, said she respects Collins but believes there is “freedom in being the underdog.”
“I believe we need more courage and honesty in Washington,” she said.
Bellows, who grew up in Hancock, has never run for elected office, but has built a reputation over the last several years as a power broker between Democrats and Republicans in the State House. She said she has experience sitting down with people of different views and finding compromise, something she said is clearly missing from Washington.
Recently, she worked with both parties to get legislation passed in Maine that protects cellphone privacy, a law that goes into effect this week. She also worked for years on marriage equality and voter rights issues.
“Shenna has spent her career working tirelessly for Mainers, and we know she’ll do the same during this campaign,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said in a statement. “(Senator) Collins has demonstrated that she is powerless to stop the extreme rightward lurch of the GOP. It’s time for a change to someone with clear, consistent values that match the values of people across Maine.”
Bellows is the only candidate to challenge Collins at this point, although that could change. Because she starts out as a clear underdog, she doesn’t have a lot to lose. If Collins beats her, no one will be surprised, but if Bellows runs a strong campaign, it could raise her profile significantly for another political run in the future, said University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer.
“No politician is ever bulletproof, but Collins is close,” he said.
Brewer said Democrats need to have a candidate, though, and Bellows is a good choice.
“It’s a good strategy to have someone who can run a positive campaign and build name recognition,” he said.
Collins’ staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Collins is considered one of the most moderate Republicans in an increasingly partisan Congress. Her former colleague, Olympia Snowe, also was considered moderate and shocked the political world in 2012 when she decided not to run for re-election, citing the poisonous climate in Washington. Brewer said he doesn’t think Collins will follow Snowe’s lead, though.
“I think maybe it’s motivated her more to become part of the solution,” he said of Collins.
In 1996, when she was first elected to the U.S. Senate, Collins bested Democrat Joseph Brennan, a two-term governor and two-term U.S. House member, by a 49 percent to 44 percent vote. In her two re-elections since, against formidable opponents, Collins has won handily each time. In 2002, she beat Chellie Pingree, who later went on to win the U.S. House seat in 2008, by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent. Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of the Portland Press Herald.
In 2008, Collins topped Tom Allen, a six-term U.S. House member, 61 percent to 39 percent.
Brewer said it’s always possible that a more conservative Republican could challenge Collins or that some Republicans could vote for another candidate, but he doesn’t think that’s likely.
The U.S. Senate is controlled by Democrats, who hold a 52-46 edge in seats. Two independents – Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont – caucus with the Democrats. Because Senate terms are six years, elections are staggered. In 2014, there will be 33 contested races.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or: