It’s a classic Maine summer selfie: Sen. Susan Collins and her husband, Tom Daffron, smiling aboard a canoe on a mirror-calm lake in the heart of Penobscot County.

“My husband, Tom, and I love these late August days at camp,” Collins tweeted above the photo Thursday.

They clearly do. But last week’s retreat to the woods and water by Maine’s senior senator was not all loon calls and canoe paddles. Hanging over her getaway was her future – and that of Maine politics.

As we tiptoe into September wondering what political bombshell or natural disaster will hit next, it’s crunch time for Susan Collins.

Sometime this month, she promises, she will decide whether to hold onto her Senate seat of 20 years – and with it the all-important rank of 15th in seniority among her peers – or walk away from Capitol Hill and set her sights on the governor’s mansion in Augusta.

“I need to determine where I believe I could do the most for the people of Maine,” Collins told reporters in Augusta just over week ago.

A noble sentiment indeed, Senator. To which I’d add only two words: Think bigger.

A few evenings ago, while I watched a network news program, the anchor referred to growing resistance to President Trump from within the ranks of Republicans in the Senate.

As he spoke, a head shot of Collins appeared on the screen – a tacit acknowledgment that Collins has, quite literally, become the face of pushback against Trump from within his own party.

That means something. Come to think of it, that means a lot.

Collins, of course, most distinguished herself in the eyes of many Mainers – and many Americans – when she cast one of three pivotal votes in July against the harebrained “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

Since then, as she recently told Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor, she’s been hand-picked by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to come up with a health insurance bill that is palatable not just to Republicans, but to Democrats as well.

“I will be very active,” Collins told Lawlor. “This is what we should have done in the first place. Bring in the experts, bring in the witnesses, and let’s figure this out.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Collins’ stock has risen so dramatically – and so inversely to that of the president – in recent months. And why, whether it’s health care or the debt ceiling or tax “reform,” she’s in a position to do not just what’s best for Maine, but for the entire country.

Collins, to be sure, has taken her lumps this summer from the far-right zealots in her party who still see Trump, bizarrely, as their hero and view Collins as … well, let’s go back to her Twitter account.

Last week Collins posted a tweet thanking an intern for his service this summer in her Caribou office. Innocuous stuff, right?

Not to the Trumpsters who immediately pounced, it wasn’t.

“Working hard to elect your replacement,” responded a guy named Mike with an American bald eagle next to his name. “Lying (expletive) is all that you are. No support for POTUS = No support 4U!”

Others followed, all as venomous as they were fallacious. And in this political climate, alas, they come as no surprise.

But here’s what is eye-opening: For all her standing up to Trump, going all the way back to last summer when she announced she could not vote for him, Collins has yet to incur the direct wrath of the White House.

No adolescent nicknames from @realDoanldTrump.

No calling her out by name, a la Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, at those never-ending campaign rallies.

Not even a presidential peep when Collins said last month that “it’s too difficult to say” whether Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2020.

The moment she announces a run for Maine’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, that will change. Big league.

Gov. Paul LePage all but promised as much when he told WGAN radio last month that it’s “highly unlikely” Collins could win a primary against Mary Mayhew, his longtime commissioner of Health and Human Services and now the heiress apparent to his red-meat Republican base.

Throw a few payback tweets from Trump into that contest and Collins will find herself at war with her own party – or at least its most militant faction – like never before.

Is that truly how she wants her legacy as a proud Maine Republican to end? (See: Olympia Snowe, 2012.)

Sure, Collins could run as an independent and, as even LePage conceded, “she wins.”

But assuming she can raise the money to do so without help from her party, she’d do well to consider that LePage will name her replacement – a search that could likely extend no further than the nearest mirror.

One can only wonder how that would make Collins feel: Depart Washington, D.C., to be of greater service to the Maine people, only to punch LePage’s ticket and tip the Senate’s precarious balance in a direction devastating to the entire country.

And for what? To move into the Blaine House and spend four years battling the Knucklehead Caucus in Augusta?

The truth is that Collins, social media trolls notwithstanding, is on an ascendant trajectory in Congress. The more she shows her backbone, lo and behold, the more people – moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – lately have cheered her on.

At the same time, Collins is not the only political moderate from outside the State House bubble capable of delivering Maine from two terms of toxicity under LePage. Democrat Adam Cote, for one, comes to mind.

Collins undoubtedly was aware of all this last week as she paddled the peaceful waters of Cold Stream Pond and pondered her looming decision.

As she told Don Carrigan of WCSH-TV in a recent sit-down, reflecting on her current role in the Senate, “The work I do across the aisle is very important, perhaps more important than ever in some ways.”

Precisely.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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