WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has received kudos recently from gay-rights groups for being the only Republican so far to sign on to two bills that aim to address perceived discrimination in the jury box and in immigration cases.

Collins is the only Republican among 28 co-sponsors in the Senate of the Uniting American Families Act. The bill essentially would allow American citizens who are in a same-sex relationship with noncitizens to sponsor that person for a U.S. green card in the same way that heterosexual married couples can now.

The legislation would create a new classification of “permanent partners” for same-sex couples. The change would bring the U.S. in line with more than two dozen other countries — including Canada, the United Kingdom and France — that recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes.

“Log Cabin Republicans are grateful to Sen. Collins for continuing to be the tip of the spear as a Republican fighting for LGBT families,” Clarke Cooper, executive director of the gay advocacy group the Log Cabin Republicans, said in a statement. “The Uniting American Families Act is a vital piece of legislation for many in our community who for too long have been forced to choose between their love of country, and the loves of their lives.”

The other bill that has garnered attention from gay-rights groups is the Jury ACCESS Act, which would prohibit federal prosecutors from attempting to disqualify anyone from serving on a federal jury because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Current law prohibits prosecutors from excluding potential jurors based on their race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs or other factors. Advocacy groups report numerous instances in which potential jurors were excluded because they were transgender or openly gay.

Collins is one of three co-sponsors of the bill, along with Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The Human Rights Campaign publicly thanked the senators earlier this month.

Democrats’ Senate quandary

Angus King’s performance in recent polls can’t quite be compared to a roller coaster, unless you’re talking one of those kiddie coasters on which lap bars are a formality. But it is safe to say that all of the polls show King’s campaign is in motion — and not in the direction he would prefer.

The independent candidate’s narrowing lead over his major-party rivals once again is focusing national attention — both in terms of news media and ad money — on Maine’s Senate race.

On Thursday, a Washington Post politics blog suggested that King “stands out as a potential headache” for Democrats amid several weeks of positive developments in the overall race to control the Senate.

The vexing question Democrats may soon have to ask, the blog suggested, was whether to help King defend himself against the rising tide of attack ads from Republican groups.

“It’s not unheard-of for Democrats to back independent candidates — they’ve done it before with Sens. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut and Bernie Sanders in Vermont — but King hasn’t even said that he would caucus with Democrats,” the Post’s Aaron Blake wrote. “So would Democrats spend money to elect a guy who they aren’t 100 percent sure would be on their side in January 2013?”

The Maine Democratic Party publicly is supporting Democrat Cynthia Dill (even if polls suggest that, at present, many Democrats do not plan to do so in the voting booth). So any money spent on King probably would have to come from national Democratic-affiliated political action committees, given the shortage of deep-pocketed PACs supporting independents.

Such a scenario certainly would anger left-leaning Democrats in Maine who are already upset about the total lack of national support for Dill.

The question being debated in Maine is whether outside help from Democratic groups help King, whose campaign is based on his independence. Or could it help Republican Charlie Summers as his backers portray King as a Democrat in disguise and attempt to divide the Democratic and independent vote?

Pundits tweak their ratings

A closely watched team of election forecasters has changed the ratings of two Maine races.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, run by well-known political pundit Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, changed the rating for Maine’s Senate race from “likely Democratic / Independent” to “leans Democratic / Independent.” Although a subtle shift, the change reflects growing optimism among Republicans that independent Angus King is vulnerable.

In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, meanwhile, the Crystal Ball now considers that race “safe Democratic,” again a slight shift from the earlier designation of “likely Democratic.” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Maine Senate President Kevin Raye.

In the Senate race, Sabato and team pointed to recent polls suggesting that King’s lead over Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill has narrowed in recent weeks. He also alluded to the strategy playing out in Republican camps trying to divide the Democratic vote between King and Dill, thereby allowing Summers to slide to victory with less than a majority — just as Republican Gov. Paul LePage did in 2010.

“Democrats are determined not to let this opportunity — created by the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) — slip away,” reads the Crystal Ball’s explanation. “It may be that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will start to explicitly support King, or claim that a ‘vote for Dill is a vote for Romney and Summers.'”

The Crystal Ball did not provide reasons for the redesignation in the 2nd District U.S. House race.

My colleague Ben McCanna at the Morning Sentinel, however, recently pointed out that Raye has not received any of the $11.4 million recently spent by the National Republican Congressional Committee on ads in 40 races.

While it’s too early to tell, some believe that could signal lowered Republican hopes for beating Michaud. The Crystal Ball did not change its “likely Democratic” rating for Maine’s 1st District House race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican state Sen. Jonathan Courtney.

As for the overall fight for the Senate, the UVA team forecasts that Democrats could end up with a 51-49 majority if they win two of six projected tossups. In the House, they predict that Democrats will pick up several seats but that the balance will remain weighted toward Republicans by a split of 236-199.

Kevin Miller — 317-6256

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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