As Sen. Susan Collins of Maine prepares to announce next week whether she will run for governor in 2018, colleagues and supporters are expressing mounting concern about her possible departure from the U.S. Senate, saying it would deprive the chamber of one of its most influential moderates.

Collins, who would be the fourth Republican to enter the race to succeed Gov. Paul LePage, has mulled leaving Washington, D.C., for some time, but also has said she wants to serve where she can do the most good for Maine’s people. In the Senate, Collins has been a moderating force who wields considerable power in key areas, most recently as one of three Republicans who blocked the party’s seven-year crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who also represents Maine, is among those urging her to stay in Washington, said Jack Faherty, a spokesman for King.

“Sen. King considers Sen. Collins a terrific colleague, a dogged fighter for Maine people in Washington and the kind of consensus-builder that the Senate needs,” Faherty said in a written statement to the Portland Press Herald. “Most importantly, he considers Sen. Collins a true friend. He considers serving alongside her to be a great privilege, and of course he’s urged her to stay, but he knows that whatever decision she makes will be with the best interest of Maine in mind and he will respect that decision.”

A KEY CHECK ON PRESIDENT TRUMP

Faherty’s statement confirmed a recent report in Politico that said King was “begging her not to leave.” The report quoted a number of Collins’ other colleagues as saying that they wanted her to stay there because she had become a powerful voice for moderates and a check against President Trump and more conservative elements of the Republican Party.

Collins, who is serving her fourth term in the Senate, will make her decision during Congress’ five-day Columbus Day recess that begins Monday, said Annie Clark, Collins’ spokeswoman.

Among pundits, pollsters and political journalists, Collins has been ranked among the most powerful women in the world and is frequently rated as among the most popular politicians in Maine. She won her last election with 67 percent of the statewide vote in 2014, or 118,796 more votes than LePage, who also won re-election that year.

Collins frequently has told members of the Maine media that she truly has been undecided about a bid for the governor’s office. She repeated that point in the Politico report, noting her “voice and vote matter a great deal” in Washington, but in Maine she could “work more directly on job creation.”

Were she to enter the race, Collins would join a Republican field that includes House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, of Lisbon, and former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, of South China.

All three are more aligned with LePage’s conservative base, which turned out to support Trump in the state’s more rural and northern 2nd Congressional District in 2016, splitting the state’s four Electoral College votes for the first time in modern history. Collins is a native of the 2nd Congressional District, having grown up in Caribou in northern Maine.

LePage has been critical of Collins’ resistance to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, and suggested she would likely back away from a race for the governor’s office.

If Collins does run, it would be her second attempt to become governor. In 1994, she won a nine-way Republican primary with 21 percent of the vote. But she finished third in the general election with 23 percent of the vote, behind King, who won with 35 percent, and Democrat Joe Brennan, who finished second with 34 percent.

LEAKED POLL MEMO SHOWS ADVANTAGE

David Farmer, a Portland blogger and Democratic political adviser, tweeted an image Tuesday of what he said was a leaked memo from Collins’ pollster that says she has a commanding lead against any potential rivals, Republican or Democrat, in a race for the governor’s office. The poll showed 70 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Collins and 75 percent approve of her job performance.

Farmer, who is working with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Boyle, a former state senator, said he was sharing the memo because it showed Collins was seriously contemplating a bid for the office. “The fact that she spent the cash to do the poll is an indicator that she is thinking about it seriously,” Farmer said.

Although her Senate colleagues are apparently fretting over her potential departure, Collins could postpone that decision because there are no legal prohibitions against remaining in the Senate while she campaigns for governor. Under the Maine constitution, Collins would not have to resign from the Senate until she takes the oath for the governor’s office, in January 2019.

The scenario of Collins running and becoming governor sets up the question of who would be appointed to fill the remaining two years of her Senate term, which ends in 2020. The governor has the authority to appoint a replacement.

Whether Collins could resign from the Senate and appoint her own replacement after being sworn in as governor, or whether that appointment would be left to LePage, remains uncertain. LePage has, at least once, ruled out the possibility that he would appoint Collins’ replacement if she were elected governor.

LePage also has said he doesn’t believe Collins could win a Republican primary, and that if she wanted to run for governor she would have to do so as an independent.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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