U.S. Sen. Susan Collins talks with Audrey Hobbs, right, of Turner during a tour Friday of Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Hobbs has worked for Elmet for 36 years. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON – After a tour of Elmet Technologies on Friday, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she can’t say yet whether she will vote for Republican President Donald Trump this fall.

“I haven’t even given thought to presidential politics,” Maine’s senior senator said, though she noted the Democratic caucus in Iowa didn’t go well.

Four years ago, when Trump first appeared on the ballot, Collins, a Republican, wrote in former House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin rather than casting her ballot for the GOP’s presidential candidate.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins talks with Frank Begert of Sabattus during a tour Friday of Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Begert, a programmer for Elmet, said that Collins was a babysitter for his wife, Cathy, when Collins and Cathy Begert lived in Caribou years ago. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Collins spent an hour at the 90-year-old company that manufactures tungsten and other metals and components, and employs about 150 people.

Speaking of the company, Collins said she was impressed with its technology and its workers, surprised by how heavy tungsten is and concerned that America’s adversaries could get an advantage if the United States doesn’t keep up in the field.

Speaking of Russian advances in making hypersonic missiles, Collins said material such as the tungsten wire made by Elmet is a crucial component of matching the military advance to make sure Russia doesn’t get ahead in a key field.

“It’s really important that we don’t allow that to happen,” said Collins, first elected in 1996 and running this year for a fifth term in the Senate in what is likely to be her closest and most hard-fought reelection campaign.

Answering questions from workers, Collins mostly addressed concerns about the availability and cost of health care, calling for a range of changes in patent law, price transparency and more that she said would help.

Collins said the federal minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour should be increased. Having it that low, she said, “is a problem. It hasn’t been raised in years.”

The existing disparity between states that haven’t got higher rates and Maine, with a $12-an-hour minimum, creates “a competitive disadvantage” that can push employers to hire where it’s cheaper, Collins said.

The senator said she favors efforts to create more apprentice programs and other steps that would encourage people to seek a skill trade.

Those with skills, she said, “are always going to be able to work.”

It is “a little dicier” for “liberal arts graduates like me,” Collins added.

Collins said that health care costs are “one of the number one issues facing the country” and something that politicians in Washington ought to be able to work together on.

“It is a top priority for me,” she said, citing a number of bills she’s pushed that address the issue.

Collins said she and her staff helped Elmet with the “swamp navigation” needed to get the Department of Defense to recognize how critical its tungsten and molybdenum products are for the military.

That led last year to a $4.2 million contract from the Pentagon to help Elmet accelerate its development of products to meet various defense needs.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins talks to employees Friday at Elmet Technologies in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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