Speculation about who might challenge U.S. Sen. Susan Collins if she seeks re-election in 2020 began before she finished her speech Friday afternoon on the Senate floor about why she would vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Not only did a former Obama administration official, Susan Rice, drop a hint Friday that she might make a run for the senior Maine senator’s seat, but two Maine Democrats indicated an interest just minutes after Collins cast her vote in favor of Kavanaugh on Saturday afternoon.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport said in a telephone interview that she is seriously thinking about a challenge in a vote that is more than two years away.

“It is definitely something that I will be seriously considering, although it will probably wait until Nov. 6 to really dig deep into really exploring that,” Gideon said.

The speaker said she would focus on getting Democrats elected to state offices before she makes a decision.

Emily Cain, a former state legislator from Orono who ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd District U.S. House seat in 2014 and 2016 and is now executive director of EMILY’s List, said she is seriously considering a run.

“I have been hearing from a lot of friends and supporters,” Cain said Saturday by phone.

Emily Cain

Rice, the Obama administration national security adviser whose mother grew up in Portland, touched off a buzz of speculation Friday when she responded “Me” when another former Obama aide asked in a tweet who would run for the Senate in Maine against Collins, following Collins’ announcement that she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

Jen Psaki, who was communications director in the Obama White House, asked in a tweet: “Who wants to run for Senate in Maine? There will be an army of supporters with you.”

Rice tweeted back shortly, “Me.”

Rice backtracked 25 minutes later with another tweet: “Many thanks for the encouragement. I’m not making any announcements. Like so many Americans, I am deeply disappointed in Senator Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh. Maine and America deserve better.”

Rice, who also was United Nations ambassador under Obama, has strong ties to Maine. She received an honorary degree from Bowdoin College this year. Her mother, the late Lois Dickson Rice, who went to Portland High School, received an honorary degree from the Brunswick college in 1984. Four of Rice’s uncles and two cousins are Bowdoin alumni.

At least one candidate announced a run against Collins shortly after Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court in July. Dr. Cathleen London, a Milbridge physician announced in July she is running against Collins, citing concerns about Collins’ views about the Supreme Court, and has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. London was reprimanded and placed on probation in August by the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine in part because of disputes she had with her patients over President Trump.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, whose name is often bandied about as a possible challenger to Collins, said she is focused on getting re-elected next month.

Susan Rice

“Like the thousands of Mainers who raised their voices in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, I’m extremely disappointed by the Senate’s vote to advance his lifetime appointment,” she said in a statement Saturday to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. “I think his record and bias on any number of issues – women’s reproductive rights, gun violence, and presidential power among them – makes him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, and to ram through his nomination after witnessing Dr. Ford’s credible testimony represents politics at its worst. As for the future, right now I am focused on serving the people of Maine’s 1st District and hope to gain their support again on November 6th.”

Collins’ own political plans are up in the air. Collins, 65, has not yet said whether she will seek re-election in 2020. Last year she considered a run for governor, but after weeks of speculation decided to stay in the Senate.

Gideon said she has never heard anything that leads her to believe that Collins won’t seek re-election.

“She has become increasingly a more reliable vote for her party since the party gained control of all branches of the federal government. Her vote is less and less about Mainers,” Gideon said.

Cain said she is also waiting until after Nov. 6 to make a decision on whether to run against Collins.

“I am going to look at everything, how the elections go this November, what it takes to run a serious campaign against a serious incumbent. This is not going to be easy for anybody,” Cain said.

Collins’ staff did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.

But Collins addressed the 2020 election in an interview with News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ) shortly after Saturday’s vote. Asked if she thought her vote for Kavanaugh would affect her re-election status two years from now, Collins said: “I have no idea. I’ll focus on 2020 in 2020. I have a lot of work to do.”

Sara Gideon

Whoever decides to take on Collins may already have more than $3 million in his or her campaign war chest. By Saturday afternoon, more than $3.2 million had been pledged by more than 108,000 people on Crowdpac for a candidate to run against Collins in 2020 should she vote for Kavanaugh.

The “Be a Hero” crowd-sourcing campaign was launched in mid-August by Ady Barkanz, a national health care activist, and by two local advocacy groups, Maine People’s Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership. Pledges came in so quickly Friday during the Senate debate that the site crashed for a while.

Collins has called the crowd-sourcing campaign a bribe, aimed at influencing her vote on Kavanaugh.

The campaign continued to attract thousands of donors on Saturday.

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