LEWISTON — Behind closed doors at a Republican dinner Saturday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins griped that she’s been assailed with dark money advertising that reaches “new depths of falsehood.”

Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Collins told GOP activists at the Androscoggin Republican Committee’s annual Lincoln Day dinner that she’s being outspent by wealthy Democrats “offering false ads attacking me” day in and day.

But, she said, she has faith that Mainers will recognize her commitment to “the values we hold dear” and the likelihood that she will be the next chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee that doles out money that can be used to help the Pine Tree State.

Speaking at the dinner were Collins, former Gov. Paul LePage and a handful of other prominent GOP leaders — including the three contenders vying for their party’s backing in a June 9 primary to select a nominee to run for Congress in the 2nd District.

Party officials barred reporters from the event at the Ramada by Wyndham Lewiston Hotel & Conference Center.

“It’s closed to the press,” Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque told a reporter, escorting him out of the ballroom where about 150 Republicans had gathered for an evening of speeches, dinner and dancing.

Listening at the door from an occasionally noisy hotel hallway, most of Collins’ address could be easily overheard. But the noise level rose during the other speakers, making much of what they said indecipherable.

View through closed doors of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins addressing the Androscoggin Republican Committee’s annual Lincoln Day dinner in Lewiston. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LePage, though, told the dinner he’s thinking of running for governor again, a point he has often made but usually not before such a receptive crowd.

“Gov. LePage is back,” Collins proclaimed to much cheering and applause.

She said she’d had a busy day that began with a brunch in Bristol where she was confronted by protestors outside.

She said she noticed one sign in particular that said “Time for Change: Send Susan Collins Back to Caribou,” her hometown.

Collins said she got the idea the sign maker thought of Caribou as “Siberia or hell.”

“I was so offended,” she said, because Caribou is a wonderful place.

After the brunch, Collins went to see the Caribou High School basketball team play for what turned out to be its second straight Class B North title. The senator said she had to leave the game at halftime to make it to Lewiston in time for the dinner “but I’m pleased to say Caribou won.”

Collins said that when she ran for reelection in 2014, she especially wanted to win Lewiston — something she managed to do. She expressed her gratitude for all the help she got from local Republicans to make that possible.

While her odds of winning Lewiston again are long given how closely her race this year is shaping up as she seeks her fifth term, Collins said the GOP has a chance to win her seat, the state Senate and the state House.

Collins said the Republican Party has “much to celebrate” and credited its commitment to the principles first laid out by Abraham Lincoln, the first GOP president, who was dedicated to freedom, equality and other values “that still guide us.”

She said there is a marked difference between the two major parties, with the Republicans firm in their belief that people should keep their own money to the degree possible while Democrats, as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont exemplifies, want to tax more and dictate where money should be spent.

“That’s the key difference between my opponent and me,” said Collins, who faces a handful of potential challengers, including state House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport.

Collins said the dark money advertising that is blasting her — unfairly, in her view — is funded behind the scenes by Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager; investor George Soros; and billionaire Tom Steyer, who is among the Democrats running for president.

She complained that their characterization of the $1.5 trillion tax bill she supported late in 2017 is misleading because it has helped 90% of Mainers pay less, including 12,000 families who no longer have to pay anything to the federal government.

Collins said it helped spur more economic activity and growth, pointing to Auburn as an example.

She said Auburn “has experienced a resurgence,” with “tremendous growth” that Levesque told her is tied to the tax cut’s provisions.

“You would never know that from the ads you see on television,” Collins said.

She complained about ads that accuse the tax bill of cutting Medicare, something she said she specifically ensured would not happen.

Collins said when Republicans asked The Washington Post to fact-check the ad, it backed her up because even though it is “not exactly a bastion of conservative thought, they do have a very honest fact-checker.”

She said that wherever she goes in Maine, people tell her they want to see an end to “the vitriol and divisiveness” in Washington and for politicians to “get back to work on the issues that affect our lives.”

Collins also complained that “the far left says Republicans are not pro-women.”

“Hello? Have you heard of Margaret Chase Smith, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins?” she asked before pointing out the GOP elected the first woman to Congress, put the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed the first woman national security adviser and more.

Collins has no Republican opposition to her reelection bid.

In addition to Gideon, there are three other Democrats competing in a June 9 primary: Betsy Sweet, a Hallowell activist; Bre Kidman, a Saco lawyer; and Ross LaJeunesse, a former Google executive from Biddeford. A Maine Green Independent contender, Lisa Savage of Solon, is also gathering signatures for a place on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

There are some independent contenders in the race as well: Linda Wooten, an anti-abortion activist from Auburn; Tiffany Bond, a lawyer from Portland; Danielle VanHelsing, a trans rights activist from Sangervill; and Max Linn, a businessman from Bar Harbor.


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