GOP senator Collins won't run for governor

Sen. Susan Collins (R) announced on Friday that she will not run for governor of Maine next year, ending months of public speculation about her political future.
 
"I want to continue to play a key role in advancing policies that ... bring peace and stabilities to a troubled and violent world," Collins said during a speech at a local Chamber of Commerce event in Maine. "And I have concluded that the best way I can contribute to these priorities is to remain a member of the U.S. Senate."
 
She added, "I am a congenital optimist and continue to believe that Congress can — and will – be more productive. ... I have demonstrated the ability to work across the aisle." 
 
Collins has publicly deliberated for months over whether to jump into the governor's race and remained tight-lipped about what she would ultimately decide. 
 
After speaking for more than 20 minutes on health care Friday morning, she joked that she should "address the elephant in the room." 
 
"I was very touched that many of the residents believed that I could provide our state with thoughtful and effective leadership," Collins said. "The hands-on nature of governor very much appeals to me."
  
The move is a boost for congressional Republicans, who have seen several moderate members announce they will leave Washington as the party struggles to score legislative wins and deal with a combative White House.

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Collins, who isn’t up for reelection to her Senate seat until 2020, has played an influential role during the Trump administration. With the Republicans' slim 52-seat majority in the upper chamber, Collins's centrist politics have put her in the middle of some of Washington’s biggest fights.

She joined with two other senators — GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (Alaska) in July, and McCain and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.) last month — to kill the Republican effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. The move threw one of the largest GOP agenda items into limbo, infuriating conservatives.

Collins took multiple jabs at the GOP ObamaCare repeal effort Friday, noting that the original proposal was "drafted behind close doors. By the way, it was a group of 13 men who did it." 

She and Murkowski also teamed up against Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosTrump considering spy network to combat 'deep state' enemies: Intercept Bharara, Yates top Twitter list of most followed new political accounts GOP higher-ed bill would eliminate Obama rule on career-prep programs MORE’s nomination, marking the first time a vice president needed to break a tie on a Cabinet secretary.

Collins acknowledged that her influence in Washington and ability to work with Democrats despite the increasingly partisan atmosphere had weighed into her decision to remain in the Senate.

Discussing the need for bipartisanship in Congress, she read a note from a colleague that urged her to remain in the Senate. 
 
"The institution would suffer. While the temptation might be to walk away and leave the problems to others, there are very few who have the ability to bring about positive change," Collins said, reading the note. 

Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and ranks 15th in the chamber. She has spots on influential committees including the Appropriations, the Health and the Intelligence committees.

While her bipartisan leanings have at times rankled leadership, it’s also won her respect from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who pressured her to bypass the governor’s race.

Amid reports that Collins was mulling leaving Washington, Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (D-N.D.) — another moderate senator who faces her own 2018 reelection — texted Collins: “Don’t do it.”

And Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' MORE (R-Tenn.), who is retiring after 2018, told reporters as he walked through the basement in the U.S. Capitol with Collins earlier this month that he had urged her to stay in the Senate.

Collins remains popular in Maine, winning her last election by nearly 70 points, and could help keep the seat in Republican hands for the foreseeable future.

"This decision has not been an easy one. I've been guided by my sense of where I can do the most for the people of Maine and the nation," Collins said Friday.

Democrats were expected to target the state if Collins pivoted to the governor’s race in hopes of a 2012 repeat. Then, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) retired, Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Trump pushing Maine gov to run for Senate: report Schumer: Franken should resign MORE, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, won her seat.

Friday’s announcement comes after months of hand-wringing by Collins, who offered few hints into which way she was leaning, except to say she wanted to do what is best for the state.

She had been expected to announce her decision by the end of September but delayed amid an eleventh-hour attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Collins also appeared undecided as recently as last week, when she acknowledged that returning to Maine appealed to her.

"Going back and forth each week is difficult, and my family and friends are in Maine. I believe I could make a difference and job creation and economic opportunity in our state," she told KCSH

She added on Friday that "on a personal note, I love being in Maine." 

If Collins had jumped in the race and won, it could have paved the way for GOP Gov. Paul LePage — a Trump ally who has clashed with Collins — to pick her replacement.

Collins previously ran for governor in 1994, losing to King, her future Senate colleague. Though she was considered the likely front-runner in a general election, she could have faced a fight in the Republican primary amid frustration about her ObamaCare repeal vote.

A survey of GOP primary voters conducted in August by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 62 percent would vote for someone else besides Collins. In a head-to-head match up, 44 percent said they would support Mary Mayhew compared to 33 percent for Collins.

More than 60 percent of respondents also said her vote against repealing ObamaCare made it more likely that they wouldn't support her.

And LePage appeared to bash Collins during a GOP event in July, saying: “If the Republican base … tell her, ‘We don’t want you; you’re not winning the primary,’ she’ll back down.”

Mayhew, the former head of Maine’s Health and Human Services Department, as well as state House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette and state Senate Republican Leader Garrett Mason, have each said they will run for the party’s nomination.