July 30, 2012

Collins, fiance ‘bring out best in each other’

The Maine senator and the political strategist Thomas Daffron share a long history of friendship and success.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

One of the most influential Maine political figures you've likely never heard of soon will tie the knot with the woman who will soon be the most powerful politician in the state.

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U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Thomas Daffron are engaged to be wed next month in Maine.

Contributed photo

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Tom Daffron, right, and Bob Tyrer, whom Daffron hired, in then-Rep. Bill Cohen’s Washington office, circa 1975. “Tom has a willingness to let young people try to prove themselves,” Tyrer says of his former mentor.

Photo courtesy Bob Tyrer

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Sometime next month, somewhere in Maine, Thomas Daffron, 73, will wed three-term Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, whom he hired as a 21-year-old intern in former Sen. Bill Cohen's congressional office in 1974.

In years between, Daffron first acted as a mentor, giving the ambitious and capable young staffer opportunities to utilize and hone her talents and to learn the often arcane inner workings of the Senate. He advised her as she entered electoral politics in her early 40s, won their old boss' seat in Washington in 1996, and quickly rose to be one of the most influential members of a closely divided Senate.

Their personal union caps a long-standing professional relationship spanning nearly four decades. It will be her first marriage, his second.

"Somebody once said that the best person to marry is your best friend," says Daffron. "This evolved from a working relationship to a friendship when I was working on her campaigns and now to husband and wife."

"I've known her for a long time, which I think will be beneficial to us in the long run because there will be few surprises, as we know each other's strengths and weaknesses," he adds.

Among insiders, Daffron is a powerful behind-the-scenes force in Maine politics, a man whose political advice is greatly valued and keenly sought after, and who mentored many of the state's political movers and shakers. Though he was Sen. Cohen's right-hand man for nearly two decades -- and a consultant for Maine congressional candidates for twice as long -- Daffron has remained out of the public eye.

"Tom is well known in political circles, but isn't a household name," says Ted O'Meara, a former Cohen staffer and state Republican Party chairman who is among those who counts Daffron as a mentor. "He's one of those people who is in the background, but if anyone on the Republican side is thinking of running for office, Tom is on the list to talk to, both for his insight and wisdom and humor."

"I've always said I wish he was on our team because he is a very thoughtful, deliberative strategist from the old school," says state Senate minority leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, a past chairman of the state Democratic Party. "He has influence in Maine's politics, but he doesn't leave fingerprints."

Sen. Cohen puts it this way: "Tom shuns the limelight as avidly as many in this business seek it out."

Daffron was born and raised in New York to a family of journalists, rather than politicos. His father was an editor at The New York Times. One uncle worked in newspapers, another in magazines. Daffron enrolled at Columbia Journalism School and went on to report for the Miami Herald and write editorials for the Wilmington News-Journal.

"I think I had some interest in politics, but it wasn't that strong until I started writing editorials," he says. "The whole process was intriguing to me, not only of how people got elected, but how Congress functions."

In 1969, he won a prestigious American Political Science Association fellowship, which placed young journalists and academics on short-term assignments on Capitol Hill. He served with both a liberal Democrat, Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona, and a moderate Republican, Sen. Charles Percy of Illinois.

"What I saw with Tom from the beginning was that he was absolutely dedicated to public service and was a terrifically nice guy who exuded confidence," says fellowship classmate Norman Ornstein, now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

(Continued on page 2)

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