Max Linn talking to reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday.

Maine’s hotly contested U.S. Senate campaign took a bizarre turn Tuesday.

Instead of quitting one of the nation’s most closely watched political races as he had announced, independent Max Linn said he’ll only get out if U.S. Sen. Susan Collins agrees to a series of demands she is virtually certain to reject.

Linn, whose political past amply demonstrates both a strong populist streak and a penchant for showmanship, told reporters on a Zoom call that he intends to stay in the race unless Collins, a four-term Republican, accepts each of his demands by 10 a.m. Monday.

He called on her to endorse wiping out all student debt for American citizens, oppose controversial plans to bring Quebec hydropower to Maine, support term limits, back a five-year immigration moratorium and push for Maine families to get $5,000 each in stimulus funds to help get the economy moving in the face of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Linn’s campaign declared last week that he planned Tuesday “to announce withdrawal from U.S. Senate race” and to endorse Collins.

But Linn never intended to abandon the race, insiders said, and looked at the ploy as a way of garnering attention and throwing the Collins campaign for a loop. In short, Linn’s campaign deliberately lied about his plans.

“We’re not going to bore you. That’s for sure,” said Matt McDonald, Linn’s senior campaign strategist.

Polls show that Collins is locked in a tight ranked-choice voting race with Democrat Sara Gideon of Freeport, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Both Linn and Lisa Savage, a Solon educator and longtime Maine Green Independent Party activist, are on the Nov. 3 ballot as independents. Another independent, Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond, is trying to convince a federal court to put her on the ballot as well.

Savage said Tuesday that Linn’s declaration “seems a bit silly.”

“With ranked-choice voting, Mainers have the opportunity to vote their values,” Savage said. “We welcome Max Linn in the race as we would welcome any candidate who did the hard work of getting on the ballot, and (ranked-choice voiting) should mean that we no longer have to play political games or conduct backroom horse-trading that Mainers clearly don’t appreciate.”

Linn said he worked for months to get on the ballot. Along the way, he said, “I’ve had political offers and even personal threats targeted at me in an effort to keep me out of this race.”

Linn’s presence in the campaign would likely have its biggest impact on Collins because he is an unabashed supporter of President Donald Trump, whose own reelection effort looms over the Senate contest. Collins, who refused to back Trump in 2016, has shied away from taking any stance on his reelection as she tries to hold together a middle-of-the-road coalition that has kept her in office since 1996.

There is concern among the GOP establishment that Linn might haul in votes from Trump supporters who don’t bother to pick Collins second on their ranked-choice ballots, ultimately lowering her final tally in a race that could be decided by a razor thin margin.

In his prepared remarks read to reporters, Linn spoke directly to Collins, telling her “during the next six days every voter in the state of Maine, every media outlet and I will be awaiting your answer” to his request to support his five key planks.

Linn said the five planks of the agenda he wants Collins to endorse are “of primary importance to me and the citizens of Maine.”

He said the immigration moratorium is needed because it doesn’t make sense “to bring in cheap labor or new citizens until our communities and families are financially stable.”

Linn called the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would bring electricity from Quebec to Lewiston, “nothing of value” for Maine.

He said forgiving student loans is needed to “liberate millions of Americans from the crippling debt of overpriced education” so they can use their earnings to buy homes, raise families and start businesses.

A $5,000 cash payment to Maine families, Linn said, would help people save their homes and futures. He also wants $500 billion in pandemic relief for small businesses.

Finally, Linn called for a two-term limit for senators, an idea Collins supported when she first ran for office but does not any longer.

“It’s time to honor your word,” Linn told the senator.

“Will you support these common sense policies, or will you force me to run?” Linn asked her. “Choose wisely. You now have six days to decide.”

Collins’ campaign has not responded to Linn’s challenge.

Linn has never successfully made the ballot in Maine, but in Florida he has run unsuccessfully as a Democrat and a Reform Party candidate. His bid to run as a Republican for U.S. Senate in Maine two years ago fell short after a challenge to the petitions he submitted succeeded in having many signatures thrown out because of a number of problems.


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