CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Maine Sends Second GOP Woman To Senate

PORTLAND, Maine (AllPolitics, Nov. 5) -- Republican Susan Collins, former aide to retiring Maine Republican Sen. William Cohen, defeated former Democratic Gov. Joseph E. Brennan to become the state's second Republican -- and second woman -- senator. Collins

Faced with having to defend a large number of open Senate seats in 1996, national Democratic strategists received what they viewed as a gift: the unexpected retirement of popular three-term centrist Republican Sen. William S. Cohen. But the party's prospects for a Senate takeaway in the northeastern-most state were not as bright as it had once hoped as the campaign entered the home stretch.

Brennan is a former governor (1979-87) and House member (1987-91), who was struggling to end a political losing streak.

Collins ran neck-and-neck with Brennan in polls and led in campaign funding. A supporter of abortion rights and an opponent of the death penalty, Collins had a moderate profile similar to that of Cohen and other Republicans who have been successful statewide.

Brennan was trying to bounce back from losses for governor in 1990 and 1994. "Brennan still rings a lot of bells with hard-core Democrats," said University of Southern Maine political scientist Bill Coogan. But he added, "I think the issue is that he's a loser and he's seen as the fellow who deprived the Democrats of an opportunity to win the seat." Coogan and other observers believed a Democrat with less baggage would have had a better shot.

Criticism of Brennan was even heard in Democratic circles. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, knocked Brennan in September for the lackluster quality of his campaign, Brennan's 14th in the last 32 years.

Kerrey said Brennan had not presented his differences with Collins clearly enough. "In Maine, we're down," Kerrey said.

Some thought Brennan might benefit from a Democratic tide in the state if President Clinton were to maintain his big lead in state polls. And Collins still had to prove herself as a general election candidate. As the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1994, Collins finished third behind Brennan, both losing to independent Angus King.

But Collins improved her campaign style and stressed the small-business concerns that have been her forte throughout her career in government.

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