Georgia runoff: Susan Collins could ultimately decide Senate’s fate

By Lee Cleveland, Polls and Trends - December 30, 2020

Georgia is the center of American politics these days. Not only are both of their U.S. Senate seats being contested in a runoff election on January 5, Democrats can also seize control of Congress’ upper chamber if both of their candidates are victorious.

And given Democrats will control the House of Representatives and the presidency come January 20, command of the Senate is a very big deal for both parties.

The most likely scenario in the Georgia runoffs is ‘winner take all.’ Hence, most experts assume one party will win both races as opposed to there being a split result.

However, if the races are as tight as the polls suggest, we could certainly see a split decision of sorts with a candidate from both parties winning; Especially given the split 2020 election results we’ve already witnessed in Georgia.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden shocked his Republican rival, incumbent Donald Trump, by carrying the traditionally conservative state in what was the closest state race in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. After the recount and with over 4.9 million votes cast, about 12,800 votes separated Biden and Trump.

But despite Biden’s win, Republican senate incumbent David Perdue finished about 88,000 votes ahead Jon Ossoff, outdueling the Democrat 49.7% to 47.9%. The Libertarian, Shane Hazel, received 115,000 votes (2.3%).

Takeaway: A lot of Georgia voters didn’t produce a straight party ticket on November 3 and the same could happen January 5.

And that’s not entirely surprising because hardcore centrists and independents, not beholden to a party, sometimes prefer an ideological balance when voting.

So, what if the Georgia Senate race produces a split result? It wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to take control of the chamber because they’d operating at a 51 to 49 deficit. However, should that come to fruition one person could still deliver the Senate to Democrats. And she’d have the means and the motive to follow through on what would be a golden opportunity.

Enter Senator Susan Collins.

-U.S. Senator
-Republican, Maine
-Age: 68
-Assumed office: 1997
-Chair of the Senate Aging Committee
-Re-elected in 2020 by a wide margin despite being projected to lose

Should the Georgia Senate Runoffs give us a split decision, we could see Democrats put a lot of pressure on Maine’s senior senator to switch parties or caucus with Democrats as an independent in order to tilt the balance of power in their direction and lift Senate control from the GOP.

And should Collins bite, such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented.

On May 24, 2001, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent and caucus with the Democrats.

His decision singlehandedly flipped control of the chamber to the Democrats.

Jeffords, who was subsequently rewarded with chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was free to vote his conscience on policy matters so long as he sided with Democrats on procedural items, such as when voting to end a filibuster or to open debate on a bill.

Of note, Jeffords, after becoming an independent, voted more with the Democrats than Republicans on issues of policy.

Why would Collins consider the change?

For all intents and purposes, Senator Collins would be a Democrat in most areas of the country by today’s standards. Hence, she’d be ridiculed for trying to run as a Republican in states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, South Carolina or Missouri. As a result, becoming an independent or a Democrat wouldn’t be a stretch for her by any comprehension.

And with Democrats in control of the Senate they’d be able to control the Floor and would have a better chance to enact some major initiatives and legislation that Collins would support. Moreover, as a higher-ranking Democrat, Collins could probably better champion some of her own priorities. And she could do it all while still voting her conscience and not losing an ounce of net support in Maine, which is a centrist state that is a marginally more blue than red and has been won by every Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.

Regardless of what Collins decides, it’s obvious today’s GOP has left her. A change in her affiliation certainly wouldn’t be far-fetched… or surprising.

Maine’s other Senator, Angus King, is a moderate independent who caucuses with Democrats so, as far as representation in the U.S. Senate, the state certainly isn’t beholden to Republicans, or any party for that matter.

The issues

On the big issues, Collins is arguably more liberal than Democratic Senate colleague Joe Manchin of West Virginia as well as several Democrats in the House of Representatives, including Ben McAdams and Collin Peterson. And Collins’ voting record, especially of late, suggests she’s out of touch with Trumpism, the ideology that has hijacked the Republican Party.

For instance, she was “mum” on whether she supported Trump’s re-election efforts, and opposed the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court earlier this year. Also in defiance of Trump, Collins voted against the repeal of an Environmental Protection Agency rule on emissions and opposed the GOP’s attempted “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which would have ultimately passed with her approval.

Not surprisingly, Heritage Action for America, a conservative policy advocacy group and sister organization of the famed think tank The Heritage Foundation, gives Collins unfavorable scores for her voting record.

Her lifetime rating of 23 percent is equal to that of Manchin’s and she falls far below voting expectations for the average Senate Republican. Moreover, her 20 percent rating for the last session is far below Manchin’s 41 percent.

Again, Manchin is a Democrat albeit one of the least liberal Democrats in either chamber.

In all fairness, per Collins has been in-line with Trump 66.7 percent of the time since the latter took office in January 2017. However, she supported the president’s initiatives just 45.2 percent of the time in the 116th Congress (2019-2020) and has been, by far, the most left-leaning, anti-Trump GOP senator during Trump’s reign.

Biden carried 3 of 4 Maine’s electoral votes in 2020, winning the popular tally by a healthy 8.1 percent.

Opportunity of a lifetime

Should the Georgia Runoffs produce a split result, Susan Collins will have tremendous leverage given the Senate would be so evenly represented yet so ideologically divided. Not only could she independently flip the ruling power in the U.S. Senate and get away with it, she could represent the determining vote on key legislation and get away with voting either way. She is, after all, a popular centrist who represents a centrist state so neither party will expect her total allegiance.

Perhaps the idea of Collins giving Trump and the GOP a big middle finger and switching parties or becoming a Democratic-caucusing independent is far-fetched, even if the situation isn’t unprecedented. And even if her constituents in Maine would love her regardless, so long as she didn’t abandon her centrist/right points of view.

But, from a policy and career standpoint, it would probably behoove Collins if Democrats were in control of the Senate and she caucused with them.

She could have her cake and eat it too.

If Susan Collins gets the opportunity to determine control of the Senate for the next two years, what do you think she should do?


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