Politics

April 3, 2013

A rare Republican, Sen. Collins remains optimistic

Steve Peoples / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this Dec. 31, 2012, photo, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., listens. "I do not think it is healthy for the Republican Party to be a regional party," Collins says.

AP

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"People on the right in the party are not happy with some of (Collins') votes," Maine Republican National Committeeman Mark Willis said. "But I don't think there's anything out there that would indicate that there's one or more people that would primary her."

There is little fear that Collins would lose to a Democrat, given her popularity with that party. Perhaps that's why most of the state's top Democrats are eyeing the 2014 gubernatorial election instead of the Senate.

The state's freshman senator, Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, said it was too early to decide whether he might endorse Collins in 2014, but he did not rule it out.

"Sen. Collins is incredibly diligent and a ferocious advocate on behalf of her constituents," King told the AP. "My experience with Maine politics is if you work hard, even if people disagree with you, they will generally support you."

Polling suggests that Democrats are generally pleased with Collins' job performance, although her policies are not always exactly in line with Democratic priorities.

In a recent interview in her Washington office, Collins refused to say whether she personally supports gay marriage. She listed one of her "proudest legislative accomplishments" as co-authoring the bill to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. A framed copy of a New York Times issue marking the accomplishment hangs behind her desk.

"I think it's evident that I have been a champion in the Senate on equality and equal rights for gays and lesbians," she said when pressed on her personal views on same-sex marriage.

"I've always felt that domestic relations, including marriage, should be dealt with at the state level," she continued. "My philosophy has been to stay out of state issues."

Collins strikes another delicate balance on gun control. She introduced legislation in March defining gun trafficking as a federal crime and cracking down on "straw purchases" in which lawful gun buyers provide firearms to those who can't buy them legally. But she is reluctant to embrace the president's call for universal background checks.

"This isn't as easy to figure out as it sounds when people call for universal or better background checks. There are a lot of details to work out to make sure that the law doesn't impose a burden that doesn't improve our safety," she said. "But do I think we can and should do better in that area? Yes."

She is among more than a dozen senators targeted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's advertising campaign pushing senators to support expanded background checks. She recently issued a statement declaring that the effort does not have "any influence over my decisions."

Meanwhile, Collins notes that a recent Democratic poll gave her one of the highest approval ratings for a senator in the nation. And she's not done looking for compromise. She is expected to be among a group of Republican lawmakers to have another private dinner with the president next week.

"He said he would be in touch," Collins said of Obama.

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