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Election handicapper moves Maine Senate race to 'leans Democratic'

Election handicapper moves Maine Senate race to 'leans Democratic'
© Greg Nash

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the election handicapper at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, has shifted Maine’s hotly contested Senate race toward Democrat Sara Gideon.

The rating change from "toss-up" to "lean Democratic" is the latest sign of trouble for Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Overnight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve MORE (R-Maine), who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators facing reelection this year.

Recent polls show Gideon, the Maine state House Speaker, leading in her bid to unseat Collins, including a New York Times-Siena College survey released last week that found the Maine senator trailing by 5 points.

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The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgOcasio-Cortez says Breyer should retire from Supreme Court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Juan Williams: Time for Justice Breyer to go MORE on Friday also injected a new air of uncertainty into the Senate race. After Ginsburg died, Collins called for the Senate to wait until after the November elections to confirm a replacement to the court, a position at odds with GOP leaders.

The Supreme Court is already a touchy issue for Collins. Her vote to confirm Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare in 7-2 ruling MORE in 2018 infuriated Democrats and helped set off the current fight to unseat her.

There may be another challenge for Collins: Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference on their ballot. 

In its analysis of the race, Sabato’s Crystal Ball noted that two independent candidates, Lisa Savage and Max Linn, appeared to be receiving enough support to prevent either Collins or Gideon from notching 50 percent of the vote outright. 

The New York Times-Siena College poll released last week showed Gideon leading Collins 44 percent to 40 percent on an initial ballot, with Savage and Linn taking 2 percent support each. Once the two independent candidates’ votes were allocated to Gideon and Collins, Gideon led the incumbent 49 percent to 44 percent.