Sen. Susan Collins may be in the biggest “no-win” situation of her career.

Facing increasing pressure from Republican leadership in Washington to fall in line behind President Trump’s latest nominee to the Supreme Court while constituents crowd her office back home, urging her to oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Collins faces trouble no matter how she votes.

“It’s a tight spot for her and this vote is going to be one that people really remember, particularly moderates who lean Democratic but have supported her in the past,” said University of New England political science professor Brian Duff. “She would love not to be in this situation.”

Duff said Collins, along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., may try to find a way to say “no” to Kavanaugh so they can vote on another conservative justice with less baggage later this year or early next.

But conservative Republican leaders in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who now calls Collins, Murkowski and Flake the “Gang of Three,” are pushing hard to get Kavanaugh confirmed and confirmed quickly – before the November midterm elections. The trio of Republicans has held up Kavanaugh’s nomination while the FBI, with the consent of President Trump, expands its investigation into allegations by three women of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh.

‘FAVORABLE OPINION’ HAS SLIPPED

One of the most popular politicians in Maine history, Collins easily won re-election with 67 percent of the vote in 2014 and with 61 percent in 2008 – popularity that, in large part, is tied to her leadership on reproductive rights, according to Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

But recent polling has found that Collins’ popularity among Maine voters has declined.

A Suffolk University poll in early August found that 49 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Collins. That’s significantly below the 67 percent who had a favorable opinion of her in an October 2016 poll conducted for the Portland Press Herald by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Collins’ vote on Kavanaugh could further affect her standing with voters.

A poll conducted by left-leaning Public Policy Polling on Monday and Tuesday found that 49 percent of voters said they’d be less likely to support Collins if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh, while 39 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for her. The poll found that 41 percent of voters in Maine think Kavanaugh should be confirmed and 54 percent think he should be rejected. It had a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

Clegg said a recent poll of 1,042 registered Maine voters conducted by Clarity Campaign Labs for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund found that 54 percent want Collins to vote against Kavanaugh while 34 percent want her to vote to confirm him.

“Her vote is pivotal and if at the end of the day, she votes to confirm Kavanaugh, she will be tied to the decisions he makes as a justice on the Supreme Court” Clegg said. “And any decisions he makes in the next two years that restrict access to abortion – it’s going to be hard for her to distance herself from that. People are paying close attention.”

‘WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT 2020’

But a vote against Kavanaugh would likely see a similar backlash for Collins from the right and could produce a primary challenger or provide a boost to an opponent from the center or left.

Annie Clark, spokeswoman for Collins, would say little Tuesday about whether Collins plans to run for re-election in 2020 or if she has considered what impact her vote on Kavanaugh might have on that race.

“We’re not talking about 2020 until 2020,” Clark said.

Maine Democratic Party officials have been unabashed in trying to pressure Collins in news releases, statements and social media posts.

The Maine Republican Party said Tuesday that Collins “will make a decision based on careful research and a thorough review of the record, as she always does.”

“That’s the secret of her success,” said Nina McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Maine Republican Party, in an email. “The Democrats have never understood that, and even go so far as to oppose it. Senator Collins’ fair approach to every politically charged situation is why she continues to win with such large margins statewide.”

Clegg said the level of engagement by Maine voters is unprecedented and the focus on Collins is intense.

“It has galvanized people in a way we have never seen before,” Clegg said. “We are out canvassing every weekend and all people want to talk about is Kavanaugh; it’s galvanized and occupied people’s minds in a way we just haven’t seen since Trump was elected.”

‘IF SHE WERE TO VOTE NO …’

Duff said voting against Kavanaugh would be the more popular choice in Maine and easier for her to recover from, especially if she is able to vote for another conservative appointee later.

“If she were to vote no on this guy, she will fly home to Bangor and be greeted by applause and it will absolutely be the more popular vote in the state of Maine,” Duff said. “And two years is a long time and it’s hard to see a primary challenger emerging with any strength just because she voted no on Brett Kavanaugh.”

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He said Republican leaders in the Senate likely recognize that in the closely divided chamber, they may need a Collins vote on other issues, so while they may be dissatisfied with her occasional independence they are aware that the alternative could be a Democrat in her seat.

Like former Sen. Olympia Snowe, another moderate Republican from Maine, Collins may decide she is no longer able to function in an increasingly partisan atmosphere, Duff said.

“It’s absolutely possible (Collins) is going to decide she’s not going to run for re-election, because it’s just so toxic to be in Washington right now,” Duff said. “She’s among the Republicans that are incredibly uncomfortable defending Trump even though she votes for many, many of the things he wants her to vote for – that she’s on his team, there’s discomfort in that for her.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

[email protected]

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