It could be the most important election of 2014. Considering the opportunity for political gain it presents, the Democratic Party can’t afford to nominate another underperforming schlub.

No, not the governor’s race. Although with possible Dem gubernatorial candidates such as John Baldacci, Mike Michaud and Steve Woods, the potential for schlubbery already seems excessive.

The contest in question is one the donkey party seems to have forgotten about:

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ bid for a fourth term.

At the moment, there’s no Democrat – schlub or not – who’s displayed the slightest interest in unseating Collins. But “at the moment,” no ballots are being cast. In the next 18 months, a lot could change, including the name of the GOP candidate.

The reason no top-tier Dem has considered challenging Collins is simple. Anyone with the brains of lobster stew knows that not only can’t she be beaten, but also that there’s a high likelihood her opponent will lose by the sort of landslide numbers indicative of the end of a political career.

The National Journal reported recently that Collins is “in a commanding position.” Finance reports show she has well over $1 million in the bank, and money is flowing in at a rapid pace, even though she hasn’t yet ramped up her fundraising efforts. A Public Policy Polling survey of over 1,200 Mainers earlier this year found her approval rating at 60 percent – among Democrats. She did even better with both independents and Republicans. Matched up against either of Maine’s Democratic U.S. representatives, she rolled to easy victories, brushing aside the aforementioned Michaud of the 2nd District by 18 points and demolishing the 1st District’s Chellie Pingree by 25.

In a news release, Dean Debnam, Public Policy’s president, said, “This seat looks pretty safe for the GOP if Susan Collins is its candidate next year.”

What do you mean if? To not nominate Collins, Republicans would have to be flat-out bonkers.

Oh wait. According to that Public Policy poll, 46 percent of the GOP could be characterized as “flat-out bonkers.” That’s the percentage of pachyderm-party respondents who said that in a hypothetical Republican primary, they’d prefer to vote for an unnamed, more conservative candidate, rather than Collins. The senator still comes out ahead of this mysterious right-wing challenger, but only by 3 points.

As one of the pollsters told MaineToday Media, “Unless you have over 80 percent approval rating within your own party, you are vulnerable.”

While the Democrats can’t scrape up even an imaginary schlub to take on Collins, GOP conservatives have no such problem. They not only have their schlub, they have one who doesn’t mind blowing extraordinary amounts of his personal wealth on long-shot campaigns.

His name is Bruce Poliquin.

Since being dumped from his post as state treasurer earlier this year, after Democrats won back control of the Legislature, Poliquin has been besieging those unfortunate enough to be on his email list with frequent treatises on how to solve the state’s and nation’s problems. He’s also got a blog and a radio talk show, both of which he employs to rail against government spending and the Obama administration, while not so subtly setting the stage for his Senate bid.

As right-wing nuts go, Poliquin is on the mild side. He tends to shy away from the wackier conspiracy theories, while never allowing himself to be overly burdened by facts. Most of what he says sounds almost reasonable. In a Republican primary, he could be formidable – if it weren’t for one little problem:

Voters don’t much like him.

In his unsuccessful runs for governor (2010) and senator (2012), he spent approximately a zillion dollars, but couldn’t beat competition composed mainly of – to be as polite as possible – schlubs. If Poliquin should somehow defeat Collins in a bonker-dominated primary, he’d face a much harder slog in the general election, where fewer voters are certifiably nuts.

Unless, that is, the Democrats didn’t take the race seriously and nominated a schlub of their own.

Even if Poliquin doesn’t win the GOP nomination, he could damage Republicans’ chances. If his conservative attacks force Collins to shift to starboard to protect her flanks, she’d do so at the risk of damaging her moderate image. If she appears too willing to bend on crucial issues, a lot of Democrats and independents who gave her favorable ratings in that poll could start looking for alternatives.

Schlubs don’t make attractive alternatives.

No matter what happens between now and election day in 2014, the chances Collins will prove vulnerable remain slim. But even slim chances are worth preparing for, just in case lightning – or Poliquin — strikes. To be ready, Democrats need a first-rate candidate, who can take advantage of whatever scenario presents itself.

As for the party’s surplus of schlubs, there are always openings in the Legislature.

Don’t be a schlub. Email me at [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.