Democratic 2020 Maine U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon may well have run the most pathetic statewide campaign in the history of the state for a major-party candidate, and her failure might cost the Democrats for years to come – not just in Maine, but nationally as well. Indeed, she may well indirectly cost Joe Manchin, the incumbent Democratic senator from West Virginia, reelection – although Manchin endorsed Susan Collins.

Let’s back up for a moment and take a look at two seemingly entirely separate and disparate data points: Manchin’s approval rating and Gideon’s leftover campaign cash. The former is going down the drain. Almost a month ago, an NBC News poll found that only 11 percent of registered voters nationally had a positive opinion of him. That reflects both the liberal base hating him and the conservative base detesting him. Basically, one of the few things uniting us as a country these days is our mutual detestation of Joe Manchin.

Now, that’s a national poll, and it doesn’t mean much of anything, really: Manchin isn’t running for president, after all, and he probably never will. Still, it’s worth pointing out that he’s less popular than the U.S. Supreme Court, Liz Cheney, Donald Trump, Joe Biden and, well, pretty much everything.

If you’re reading this column, you probably have a higher nationwide approval rating than Joe Manchin. Even so, Manchin is elected by the people of West Virginia. How’s he doing there? It turns out he’s doing quite a bit better at home: In fact, more than twice as well. He has a 26 percent approval rating in West Virginia; 66 percent rate him unfavorably.

Remember back when Maine Democrats labeled Susan Collins the most unpopular senator in the United States? Joe Manchin is less popular back at home than she was then, and that’s while he’s flip-flopped on enabling Joe Biden’s big-government agenda. Biden is unpopular nationwide, but he’s even more unpopular in West Virginia, and it would lead a reasonable person to wonder just what exactly Manchin was thinking when he went along with any of Biden’s plans.

There’s plenty of time to right the ship: Manchin has more than two years before he faces the music. West Virginia is mostly a reliably Republican state, and the Republican Party would face no shortage of well-qualified candidates eager to take him on, starting with the current governor, Jim Justice.

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This is where Sara Gideon’s leftover campaign cash comes in to play, and may well doom Manchin’s reelection prospects. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has only a limited amount of money to spend, just like any political party or political action committee. It might seem like the Democrats have an unlimited reserve of campaign money, but in fact they do not: They have to raise money for their candidates and PACs, just like the Republicans do.

Still, two years ago the committee and others convinced donors that Collins was vulnerable and that Gideon was viable, so millions funneled into Gideon’s campaign. That money went to her doomed efforts, and it couldn’t be spent in other states where they might have been successful – like in North Carolina or Iowa, other states Republicans held that were closer than Maine.

Indeed, they managed to turn the Collins-Gideon race into the most expensive campaign in state history, as both candidates and both parties threw money into Maine. As it turns out, both parties might as well have lit that huge pile of cash on fire in their backyard: Susan Collins cruised to an easy reelection despite her most challenging race yet, while Sara Gideon sat there on Election Day with $14 million unspent.

To repeat, she didn’t have a way to spend $14 million. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had that problem.

If they’d spent that money more productively elsewhere, and won just one more seat, then Manchin wouldn’t have held veto power over their entire agenda. They would have been able to spread out the tough votes among their other moderate incumbents, perhaps sparing Manchin a few hits to his approval rating. If Democrats had allocated their resources more wisely, Manchin might not be facing such perilous political headwinds at home – and his party may well have had one more vote to enact its agenda. Even if Democrats manage to hold the Senate in 2022, they may well face tougher headwinds in 2024 because they wasted so much money in Maine in 2020.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel


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