A Colby College poll of slightly more than 1,000 Maine voters shows Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and her leading Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, with virtually identical support nine months before Election Day.

The survey was conducted Feb. 10-13 – days after Collins voted to acquit President Trump during the Senate’s impeachment trial – and asked voters whom they would choose between Collins and Gideon. Gideon led narrowly with 43 percent support, compared to 42 percent for Collins, with 14 percent undecided.

“One of the most surprising findings is how poorly Senator Collins is doing with women,” said Dan Shea, Colby College professor of government and the lead researcher on the poll. “She had a 42 percent approval rating overall but that drops to 36 percent for women. Further yet, it drops to 25 percent for women under 50.

“My best guess is this is residual impact on her vote for (U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett) Kavanaugh.”

Shea also said he was surprised to see support for Collins among independents at just 38 percent. That block of voters, the largest in Maine, has been crucial to her previous four electoral wins.

The Colby College poll is the first public survey of the 2020 U.S. Senate race and Shea cautioned that there is a long time to go until November.

“Senator Collins is an excellent campaigner and she has a very strong track record of bringing federal dollars back to the state,” he said. “That’s going to matter.”

Gideon’s campaign did not respond to messages Tuesday.

Collins’ spokesman Kevin Kelley said Tuesday evening, “I defer to Stu Rothenberg, the well-known political analyst, who says, ‘This ballot test is not consistent with other (unreleased) numbers, and it conveys a misimpression of where the race stands.'”

Gideon also had a commanding lead in the Colby poll over her challengers in the Democratic primary, with 60 percent of Democrats or independents who plan to register as Democrats indicating they support the current Maine House speaker from Freeport. The other Democrats vying for the nomination are Betsy Sweet, Ross LaJeunesse and Bre Kidman.

Voters were asked how they would vote if Collins were up against a Democrat other than Gideon. Forty percent said they’d vote for Collins, 34 percent would vote for the Democrat and 26 percent were undecided.

Independents Tiffany Bond, Steven Golieb and Danielle Van Helsing, along with Green Independent Lisa Savage, are declared candidates as well.

Colby also asked Democratic voters who they are likely to support in the presidential primary next month. Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won Maine in the Democratic caucuses four years ago, led the way with 25 percent support, followed by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (16 percent), former New York Mayor Micheal Bloomberg (14 percent) and former Vice President Joe Biden (12 percent).

Shea said he wasn’t surprised by Sanders’ support, but said two things did stand out: Biden’s low showing and Bloomberg’s rise, both of which mirror national trends.

Of those surveyed by Colby, 30 percent were Democrats, 28 percent Republicans and 41 percent were unenrolled. Responses were divided among landlines, cell phones and online responses. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.21.

The polling was conducted by SocialSphere, a public opinion research firm located in Boston whose head, John Della Volpe, is the director of polling at Harvard’s Institute for Politics and at RealClearPolitics. This poll is the first of a series that Colby College and SocialSphere plan to conduct between now and Election Day in November, Shea said.

President Trump was viewed favorably by just 39 percent of those polled, while 60 percent viewed him unfavorably. The numbers for Maine Gov. Janet Mills were nearly the opposite, with 59 percent viewing her favorably and 37 percent unfavorably. Trump did fare much better in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Among voters in the 2nd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden held an edge over a generic Republican candidate – 43 percent to 29 percent with 28 percent undecided. Three Republicans – Eric Brakey, Dale Crafts and Adrienne Bennett – will square off in a June primary.

But the Senate race was by far the most fascinating, Shea said. And the timing of the poll – immediately after the impeachment trial – likely had an impact.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said they followed the impeachment process closely. Voters were evenly split on whether the Senate made the right decision to acquit Trump, with 48 percent calling it the right decision and 49 percent saying it was wrong. Collins’ vote on impeachment, though, appears to have had an impact. Of those polled, 36 percent said her decision made them less likely to vote for her, while 17 percent said they were more likely to support her.

Shea said the poll results were another sign the “nationalization of electoral politics has spread to Maine.”

“Can a Yankee Republican survive in our polarized politics?” he said. “That’s an open question.”

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