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 deals with a combative White House.
Collins, who isn’t up for reelection to her Senate seat until 2020, has played an influential role during the Trump administration. With a slim 52-seat majority, 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 McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA’s woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans jockey for position on immigration GOP senator knocks Trump: ‘Not a fan of governing by tweet’ How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed MORE (Alaska) in July, and McCain and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework 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.
She and Murkowski also teamed up against Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosMillennials, especially of color, are disrupting charter school debate Costs for DeVos’s security detail could top M in next year: report Black leaders, NFL protesters should get off sidelines for educational justice 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.
“One of my colleagues who is trying to get me to stay in the Senate told me I am the pivotal player on a lot of important issues,” she told a Maine TV station last week. “We’re about to go into a debate on tax reform. I’m involved in all of those issues.”
Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and ranks 15th in the chamber. She has spots on influential committees including the Appropriations, Health and 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 HeitkampWells Fargo chief defends bank’s progress in tense Senate hearing Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace MORE (D-N.D.) — another moderate senator who faces her own 2018 election — texted Collins: “Don’t do it.”
And Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot 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 KingSenate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy Mattis: Staying in Iran deal is of US national security interest 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 11th-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.
“I really love being in Maine,” she told KCSH. “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.”
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. Though she was considered the likely frontrunner 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 GOP House leader Kenneth Fredette and Maine Senate Republican Leader Garrett Mason have each said they will run for the party’s nomination.