With help from state Republican Party leaders, it appears that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins won’t face a primary challenge after all.

Derek Levasseur

Derek Levasseur of Fairfield said Monday that he would quit the race because his party’s elite, including former Gov. Paul LePage, squeezed his five-month-old campaign so hard that it wasn’t worth pursuing it any longer.

“It’s taken a toll on my family and it’s taken a toll on me,” Levasseur said.

Collins has never faced a Republican primary since winning her Senate seat in 1996. Democrats are likely to compete in a June primary that will pick their standard bearer for the general election in November 2020.

Levasseur said the state party’s chairwoman, Demi Kouzounas of Saco, told him from the start that challenging Collins would be “political suicide.”

Levasseur said LePage warned him recently to quit the contest because “‘I’m coming after you’” otherwise.

He said the former governor told a young staffer on his campaign that he would “destroy” the young man’s political future if he didn’t leave Levasseur’s team.

“That’s heavy for a 19-year-old who wants to be involved” in the future, Levasseur said, adding that he doesn’t blame his aide for bowing out under the pressure.

Levasseur provided screenshots of messages he exchanged with Jason Savage, the state party’s executive director, related to the state GOP’s decision to cut off his access to voter data until he promised not to criticize the party’s leaders anymore.

“The day you attacked Demi, I put a hold on it,” Savage wrote to Levasseur. “Basic principle: Anyone who attacks the party doesn’t get to use our resources to potentially attack us with them.”

Savage restored access after Levasseur removed a social media post mentioning his anger at Kouzounas.

“I hated that that incident happened,” Savage wrote to Levasseur. “I have no desire to be in conflict with you or any Republican.”

The bottom line, Levasseur said, is that ordinary people don’t have a fair shot of getting elected.

“They get squashed by these elites,” Levasseur said.

Savage said Monday that “we have important work to do. Playing games like this isn’t part of that work.”

Levasseur said the Republican establishment in Augusta “is killing conservatism instead of fighting for it.” Supporting Collins, he said, will hurt Maine’s conservative base.

He said he recognized that with so much effort devoted to blocking him, he would have a hard time collecting enough signatures to get on the primary ballot, let alone win.

“It’s just not going to happen,” Levasseur said, so it is pointless to squander so much time and energy when his campaign couldn’t get enough traction to have a shot.

LePage could not be reached for comment.

Making the choice to quit, Levasseur said, wasn’t easy.

“It’s a heartache, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” he said.

Levasseur, who runs a small construction company, had already quit the Maine GOP’s state committee this summer to protest its efforts to knock him out of the running.

He said he appreciates the grass-roots support and campaign donations he got from many Mainers. His campaign raised nearly $7,000 by the end of June — and spent $9,400.

But, Levasseur said, he couldn’t ask backers for more once he realized how stacked the process is in favor of insiders.

“It’s all a political game” for them, Levasseur said,

He said he is disappointed in the GOP. He said he may try to form a new Freedom Party that would stand up for blue-collar workers and oppose government efforts to tell regular people how to live their lives.

Collins is formally a candidate for a fifth term but has said she is weighing whether to run or not. Her decision is expected this fall.

Democrats vying for the right to challenge her are state House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, the party establishment’s choice; Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, an activist; Bre Kidman of Saco, a lawyer; and Jonathan Treacy of Oxford, a retired U.S. Air Force major general.

Independent Danielle VanHelsing from Sangerville is also in the race.

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