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The gulf of Maine

Senator Collins votes the Bush line 77 percent of the time; her challenger, Representative Allen, weighs in at 18 percent. Will these numbers decide November’s election?
By JEFF INGLIS  |  October 9, 2008
COMPARING THE CANDIDATES: How Collins and Allen stack up.

Maine is a Democrat-leaning state that has — at least for now — two Republican senators. With a massively unpopular Republican president leaving office, this year’s Senate election is as much a contest based on a candidate’s real and perceived alignment with George W. Bush as anything else.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is making hay out of John McCain’s record of voting with Bush 90 percent of the time, and Maine Democratic US Representative Tom Allen is trying to do the same as he works to unseat incumbent Republican US Senator Susan Collins. One of his most recent TV ads blames the present economic meltdown on Bush’s efforts to deregulate the economy, and then says “Susan Collins supported the Bush economic policies that hurt Maine and created a national crisis.” For her part, Collins is trying to distance herself from Bush: A recent ad avoids the word “Republican” entirely, calling her “an independent voice for Maine.”

Collins is more independent than most Republican senators, opposing the president more often than all but one of her upper-house GOP colleagues — Maine’s other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, who was elected to her third term in 2006.

But there is a gulf between Collins and Allen, and it becomes very apparent when looking at how their positions align with Bush’s (or don’t). Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan news organization covering Congress, has calculated a “presidential support score” for every member of Congress, looking at how often they voted with or against President George W. Bush’s wishes throughout his term to date — Collins voted with Bush 77 percent of the time; Allen just 18 percent.

On a broad range of Phoenix-selected key topics — including the USA PATRIOT Act, foreign trade, economic and tax policy, environmental issues, energy, stem-cell research, the Iraq War, the minimum wage, immigration, warrantless wiretapping, abortion and reproductive rights, education, open government and free speech, the Farm Bill, Congressional ethics and campaign-finance reform, homeland security, same-sex marriage, Supreme Court justices and key Cabinet officials (in the Senate only), AIDS/HIV, prescription-drug prices, military Base Realignment and Closure Commission issues, and treatment of terrorism detainees — Allen has sided with Bush 17 percent of the time, while Collins backed the president 64 percent of the time.

That’s a lot of difference right there. And by looking at just a few specific issues of great national importance, the contrast between Allen and Collins becomes clearer.

COLLINS voted with Bush on Iraq-related issues 72 percent of the time, including supporting both “use of force” resolutions (the one on September 14, 2001, authorizing the use of force against whomever had attacked the United States on 9/11, and the specific 2002 authorization of use of force in Iraq), and repeatedly opposed troop-withdrawal timetables. Only in 2007 did she begin offering any real opposition to Bush’s efforts in Iraq, voting to begin debate on opposing the surge, but without retracting her opposition to a withdrawal timetable.

ALLEN voted with Bush 27 percent of the time on Iraq-related questions, supporting the vague 2001 “use of force” authorization (which led to the Afghanistan war), but not the Iraq-specific one in 2002. He has supported several war-spending bills, though not all of them. He went against the president in his votes opposing the Iraq troop surge and supporting timelines for withdrawal. He also supported Bush-opposed efforts to prevent money appropriated for Iraq and Afghanistan from being spent on actions against Iran.

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