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.
SNOWE supported Bush on Iraq even more than Collins, agreeing with the president’s Iraq policy 77 percent of the time, as compared with her overall support score of 73 percent. But she opposed the surge, and has sponsored a bill for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.
Democratic US Representative MIKE MICHAUD took Bush’s side 21 percent of the time, mostly on war-spending bills. (Michaud supported the president 19 percent overall.)
COLLINS agreed with Bush’s positions on civil liberties 82 percent of the time. Not only did she vote to confirm the appointments of John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, and to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court, but she voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and its reauthorizations, and for a constitutional amendment that sought to ban flag-burning. She supported Bush’s positions on treatment of terrorism detainees, the creation of military tribunals to “try” terrorism suspects (while barring the creation of a commission to oversee those tribunals, which largely have been ruled unconstitutional), and suspension of habeas corpus. She also voted to support warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, and to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that had participated in warrantless wiretaps before the practice was formally legalized. In the process, she voted to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by Maine residents seeking information on the government’s warrantless-wiretapping program. Collins opposed a Bush-supported constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, and voted against Bush to declare that Attorney General Gonzales “no longer holds the confidence” of the Senate.