Sen. Susan Collins is set for reelection to the U.S. Senate after her opponent in Maine's most expensive political campaign, Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, conceded the race.
Collins' victory comes after more than $100 million were spent in the race, and it helps Republicans' chances of controlling the Senate for at least the next two years. Gideon's concession also came before ranked-choice voting needed to be invoked, under which she could have added to her vote total as voters' second-choice candidate.
Speaking to supporters in Bangor, Collins said she is "the first person since Maine directly elected its senators to win a fifth term."
Thanking Gideon, the Republican promised to work with Mainers on the problems faced by the state and the country.
"To the people of Maine, thank you, thank you. I will serve you with all my heart, I will work hard for you each and every day," Collins said.
Gideon conceded in a livestreamed speech shortly after Collins' remarks.
"While we came up short, I do believe Mainers in every corner of this state are ready to continue to work together to make a difference," Gideon said.
Political coverage from NBC4.
In Maine's presidential election, NBC News projected Wednesday that Joe Biden won at least three of the state's four electoral votes. Two of Maine's electoral votes are allocated based on the winners of its two congressional districts, and the NBC News has not yet projected a winner in the second district.
The Associated Press projected that Rep. Jared Golden won the House race in the 2nd Congressional District, retaining a seat for Democrats after a challenge by Dale Crafts.
Collins touted herself as an experienced, bipartisan candidate who works to get things done for Maine, and is in line to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee if Republicans do retain control of the U.S. Senate.
In fact, Collins told reporters after he victory speech that she'd already spoken with fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, about getting to work on a coronavirus aid bill next week.
Gideon sought to drive home her message that Collins no longer represents the interest of Mainers after votes for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and for President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.
Collins told supporters Tuesday evening, while the results were still up in the air, that she never backed down in the face of a flood of negative ads in the race.
“The other side thought they could come to Maine and just run negative ads, dump loads and loads, millions and millions of dollars of money, and just buy the Senate seat,” she said after polls closed, acknowledging it was early in the evening. “Is that the Maine way? No, it certainly is not.”
Gideon, for her part, did not appear at an event at a Portland hotel Tuesday night but said she was grateful to all of her supporters.
The Senate race was the most costly in Maine’s history with Gideon raising nearly $70 million, more than double Collins’ $27 million. But that didn’t include so-called dark money. All told, more than $120 million was spent by both candidates and outside groups on television advertising.
Polls showed a tight contest, despite all of the money. Mainers on Tuesday got the final say on the race, which also includes two independents, educator Lisa Savage — who hoped to become the first Green senator by rejoining the party — and conservative businessman Max Linn.
Live Election Results
More than 500,000 Mainers already voted before Election Day and some polling places were crowded on Tuesday, causing delayed tallies from clerks in some municipalities.
The tight race ultimately did not trigger provisions under Maine’s ranked-choice voting system.
It lets people rank all candidates on the ballot. If no one wins a majority of first-round votes, then there are additional tabulations in which last-place finishers are eliminated and their second-place choices reallocated to the remaining field to assure a majority winner.
Democrats began targeting the popular Collins after her vote for Kavanaugh, and opponents crowdsourced money to unseat her. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gave an early endorsement to Gideon, who easily won her primary.
Changing demographics and partisan politics have altered the political landscape.
In the past, Collins easily won reelection with help from independents and even some Democratic voters in a state known for its fierce independence. But Democrats surged past independents in voter registrations this summer, becoming the state’s largest voting bloc.
Republicans cast Gideon as a wealthy liberal and a risky choice. Collins contended Gideon would be a Democratic partisan, not an independent voice, and touted her ability to get things done, pointing to the Paycheck Protection Program — for which she was lead author — as helping businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gideon, meanwhile, said Collins’ seniority didn’t seem to give her much standing in her own party caucus. She vowed to press for a Medicare option for health care and environmental improvements while stopping short of the “Medicare For All” and Green New Deal proposals backed by progressives.
Collins is a native of Maine, raised in Caribou, where she picked potatoes as a kid, and touted her familiarity with Maine’s unique issues.
“I’ve always put you first. You and you alone are my priority and I have been honored to serve you, each and every day. That’s that’s why I’ve never missed a single roll call vote,” she said, noting that she’s cast 7,486 consecutive votes in the Senate.
Gideon, originally from Rhode Island, moved to Freeport, Maine, about 15 years ago. She was elected to the Legislature in 2012 after serving on the Freeport Town Council.
The 2020 election in Maine marked the first use of ranked-choice voting in a presidential contest in the U.S.
Maine voters first approved ranked voting in federal races in a statewide referendum in 2016. The Legislature later enacted a law to ensure that it's used in the presidential race.
Ranked voting is sometimes called an "instant runoff.'' But there's nothing instant about Maine's implementation of the voting system. If additional tabulations are required, then all the ballots from hundreds of municipalities have to be shipped to Augusta and entered into a computer which completes the additional tabulations.
The voting system is not used for state legislative or governor's races because of concerns it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.
Other Maine races include:
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden battled Trump ally Dale Crafts in the vast, rural 2nd Congressional District. Golden said Wednesday afternoon that Craft called him to concede, according to NBC affiliate News Center Maine.
Golden, who narrowly defeated GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin thanks to ranked voting in 2018, describes himself as a moderate voice for all Mainers. He has pledged to keep supporting small business and traditional rural industries, and to make access to health care a priority.
Crafts, a Republican, is a businessman and former state lawmaker who was counting on Trump's popularity in the 2nd Congressional District and endorsement carrying him to victory.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is considered a safe bet in her reelection battle against Republican Jay Allen. She led Allen 57% to 43% with 10% of precincts reporting on Tuesday night.
Pingree, 65, is seeking a seventh term in a liberal district that has been friendly to her over the years. If reelected, she would be the first person in six decades to be elected to more than six consecutive terms representing the 1st Congressional District.
Allen is a family physician and former Army doctor from the Bristol area who is running on a staunchly conservative platform.
A referendum on a proposed power corridor in western Maine wasn't on the ballot.
Opponents of Central Maine Power's $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect that aims to serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower obtained enough signatures for a statewide referendum. But the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the referendum violated the Maine Constitution because referendums can be used only to nullify legislative actions, not state agency actions.