Will Collins leave the Senate? Announcement coming Friday

Susan Collins is pictured here. | POLITICO

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) answers questions from reporters as she heads to the floor for debate on the health care bill on July 27, 2017. John Shinkle/POLITICO | John Shinkle/POLITICO

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will announce at a local Chamber of Commerce event on Friday whether she will run for governor — a decision that remains shrouded in secrecy and could upend the Senate political landscape.

The influential moderate plans to make the announcement during a speech she’s giving on health care in Rockport, Maine according to a source familiar with the event. The speech is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

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Collins has wrestled for months with whether to leave the Senate to launch a gubernatorial run, and has given little clues about where she will ultimately land. Her Senate colleagues, particularly fellow moderates, have been urging Collins to stay, and senior Republicans said this week that they were completely in the dark about what Collins will do.

One of a handful of moderates left in the Senate, Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and is not up for reelection until 2020. Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, would tap a replacement to serve out the rest of Collins’ Senate term should she be elected governor. LePage is term-limited.

Because of her centrist politics, Collins has assumed an outsized role in contentious policy battles in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow, 52-seat majority and have been battling Democrats generally unified against major pieces of the GOP agenda. The senator opposed multiple iterations of the Senate GOP’s plans to dismantle and replace Obamacare, helping to contribute to the repeal effort’s demise.

Her exit could also hand Democrats another Senate seat. It would create a dynamic similar to that in 2012, when moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) retired and Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, handily won election.

“In the absence of Susan Collins, Maine becomes a whole different place,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2014, the last time Collins was on the ballot.

But while fellow senators are urging Collins to remain in the Senate, they’re also sympathetic to her wishes to be closer to home.

“For people like me and Susan, our life isn’t here,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), a close friend of Collins who wants her to stay. “Our life is back in our home state. And I think that’s really a big part of it, too.”

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