Betsy Sweet, a Democratic candidate looking to beat out veteran U.S. Sen. Collins in 2020, speaks at a town hall meeting Tuesday at the Sagadahoc County Democratic Office on lower Main Street in Topsham. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

TOPSHAM — Betsy Sweet, a progressive running for the Democratic nomination to face veteran Maine Sen. Susan Collins, said she will work to keep jobs at Bath Iron Works, but questioned what role ships will have in the future of warfare.

“As long as we’re building warships, Bath is the best place to do it,” Sweet, 62, of Hallowell, said after a town hall meeting at the Sagadahoc Democrats Office in Topsham Tuesday. “My No. 1 thing is making sure that those workers keep their jobs and keep their good jobs.”

She said she wants to explore the shipyard’s future by forming a long-range planning committee.

“The next wars in this country are not going to be fought with [warships],” she said. “They’re going to be fought with drones and cyberattacks. And at some point, it’s not going to be whether they’re built in Bath or Tennessee; it’s going to be whether they’re going to be built at all.”

She said the federal government could play a role should the shipyard ever begin building non-military ships.

“If we could be a little more planful about new opportunities and new niches, it’s a huge opportunity,” she said.

Bath Iron Works employs about 6,000 workers at facilities in Bath and Brunswick. Along with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi, it is one of two shipyards in the U.S. building Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the backbone of the US Naval fleet. It is also the sole shipyard that builds the Zumwalt-class of advanced stealth destroyers, though cost overruns have limited Zumwalt production to just three ships.

Collins has long been a strong supporter of the shipyard. The senator has often pointed to her work as a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to secure funding for additional warship contracts for BIW. In 2014, for the first time, all four BIW unions endorsed Collins’ bid for reelection.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, attorney Bre Kidman of Saco and retired U.S. Air Force Major General Jonathan Treacy of Oxford are also seeking the Democratic nomination.

However, Sweet kept her focus on Collins Tuesday.

“I feel like Sen. Collins is no longer on our side,” Sweet told The Times Record. “I think that she has become much more the senator of (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump than she is the senator of Maine.”

She argued that is evident in the tax-cut vote Collins supported two years ago that Sweet said benefited corporations and the wealthy.

Sweet also criticized Collins’ vote to appoint Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year, citing past allegations of sexual misconduct and his stance on abortion.

“I think the vast majority of people in Maine support a woman’s right to choose and then when she had the opportunity to do something – that was a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court – she chose to do what her party asked her to do and not what the people of Maine asked her to do,” Sweet said.

This senate race is projected to cost between $100 million and $150 million, which Sweet said is “obscene,” and has introduced a policy idea that would create publicly-financed clean elections for federal office that would also limit the campaign cycle to 12 weeks, “because no one needs to be listening to this stuff for a year and a half; two years.”

Collins was first elected in 1996 and served as a moderate.

The Associated Press reported last month that the controversy over Kavanaugh presented an opening for Democrats because Collins lost standing with many women when she voted for him.

On the flip side, for the first time since 1996, Collins faced a primary challenge from within the GOP in the form of Derek Levasseur, 44, a Trump-supporter and blogger who runs a small construction company in Fairfield. Levasseur, who championed smaller government, announced earlier this month he will quit the race due to pressure from the party, including from former Gov. Paul LePage.

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