AUGUSTA — Democrat Sara Gideon raised significantly more money than Republican Sen. Susan Collins during the summer months, although the would-be challenger still trails the incumbent in total “cash on hand” despite a record $3.2 million haul.

Gideon, who is speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, raised more than $1 million in the first week of her campaign after announcing in June that she would launch a bid to unseat Collins. After raising an additional $3.2 million between July and September, Gideon’s campaign headed into the fall with $2.75 million in cash on hand, spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said.

Collins’ campaign, by comparison, reported raising $2.1 million during the summer months, but ended the third quarter with $7.1 million still in the bank. Those figures, combined with what is already a flood of spending by outside groups, put Maine’s closely watched 2020 Senate race on track to be one of the most expensive campaigns in state history.

Gideon’s campaign reported that 97 percent of the $3.2 million came from individuals giving less than $100 and that more than 3,700 Mainers had donated over the last quarter.

“I’m so grateful to the supporters who joined our team in the first few months of this campaign,” Gideon said in a statement. “I’m running for Senate because I believe that politicians in Washington are too responsive to special interests and their wealthy donors, and it’s time for leadership that puts Maine first. That’s why I’m not accepting any corporate PAC money, and why I’m proud to have such a strong grassroots team.”

Sara Gideon

Collins’ campaign, meanwhile, said that more than 65 percent of individual donations during the third quarter were under $50.

“Senator Collins has developed a national reputation as a hardworking, independent voice of reason in the United States Senate, and she is fortunate to receive strong support from around the country and right here in Maine,” campaign spokesman Kevin Kelley said in a statement. “Out-of-state interest groups and other organizations have already spent more than $2 million on negative, dark money television and radio ads as well as paid social media attacks against Senator Collins. Our team knows that we will be outspent during this campaign, but Senator Collins is working hard to ensure that her campaign will have the resources to run an effective campaign focused on her long record of bipartisan accomplishments on behalf of our state.”

The campaign of Democratic candidate Betsy Sweet, a progressive advocate and lobbyist from Hallowell, reported raising $101,000 during the last reporting period. Sweet, who is campaigning on the need to remove “big money” from politics, reported that the average contribution for the quarter was just $33.

“We’re campaigning the way we’ll govern, by spending time with Mainers, not lobbyists and the monied special interests,” Sweet said in a statement. “And Mainers are responding. Nearly 400 people are actively volunteering for our campaign, and over 3,000 people have contributed.”

Sen. Susan Collins

Maine’s U.S. Senate race is expected to be one of the most closely watched – and expensive – campaigns in the country next year. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on several controversial votes by Collins and President Trump’s unpopularity among independents and moderates in Maine to flip a Senate seat held by Republicans for decades. Republicans, meanwhile, are fighting to retain control of the Senate next year. And outside groups on both sides already are spending millions of dollars in Maine.

Gideon received more donations in three months than the $2.4 million that Collins’ last Democratic challenger, state Sen. Shenna Bellows, raised during her entire 2014 campaign. At the time, Collins was considered a safe bet for reelection as she campaigned on her reputation as a moderate Republican and a bipartisan dealmaker in the sharply divided halls of Congress.

But the political dynamics have shifted dramatically since 2014, to the point where Democrats now regard Collins – a formidable campaigner and virtual political institution in Maine – as one of the more vulnerable Senate Republicans during the 2020 election. Collins’ opponents frequently point to her support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other controversial Trump nominees, as well as for the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut bill, as proof that she is not the moderate the claims to be.

Collins, meanwhile, continues to highlight her reputation for bipartisanship in Washington even as she taps into Republicans’ fear of losing control of the Senate. While her decision to support Kavanaugh infuriated many progressives in Maine, that vote helped the Republican raise a personal-best $1.8 million during the final three months of 2018. She then topped that fundraising haul several months later, surpassing the $2 million mark in a quarter for the first time in her career.

Yet opponents of Kavanaugh used the left-leaning crowdfunding website Crowdpac to raise nearly $4 million for Collins’ eventual Democratic opponent in 2020 in hopes of pressuring the Republican to vote against the nomination.

Campaigns on both sides will be carefully scrutinizing the FEC filings. Gideon’s campaign, for instance, already has pointed out that the majority of Collins’ contributions have come from non-Mainers as well as the amount of donations from political action committees. Collins and her Republican allies, meanwhile, have accused Gideon and national Democratic party leaders of attempting to squeeze out any primary opponents.

Maine’s 2020 Senate race is already on track to be the most expensive in state history, especially when accounting for the enormous amounts of money expected to be spent by outside groups on television ads and other attempts to influence Maine voters.

In addition to Gideon and Sweet, there are three other declared Democratic candidates in the race: retired Air Force Gen. Jon Treacy of Oxford, Saco attorney Bre Kidman and Bangor resident Michael Bunker. Independent Danielle VanHelsing also has filed candidate paperwork and two Green Independents, Lisa Savage and David Gibson, have announced plans to seek their party’s nomination.

Kidman had reported raising $14,336 with $8,275 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Treacy reported raising $23,718 for the period and loaned his own campaign $10,000. He had a cash balance of $26,309.

Savage, meanwhile, officially filed her candidacy paperwork with the FEC on Tuesday.

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