Maine’s Susan Collins Avoids Tea Party Challenge

Remember the tea party?

It was a force to be reckoned with in Maine. It propelled a little known, poorly funded Waterville mayor from “dark horse” in a wide Republican primary field into the Blaine House in 2010. It churned up national speculation that perhaps Sen. Olympia Snowe, widely viewed as the most moderate Republican left in the Senate, choose to retire rather than face an embarrassing defeat.

But with today as the filing deadline for ballot access for U.S. Senate candidates, Sen. Susan Collins remains alone in the GOP field. Her more conservative opponents, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and more all earned at least nominal opposition from within the ranks of their own party.

According to a report in the Portland Daily Sun, Erick Bennett, who had said he would run against Collins in a primary, said he is instead running as an independent. He’s abandoning the GOP “”because of policies such as promoting the Affordable Care Act, Maine Care and massive spending increases,” the Sun reported.

(Update: A source points out Bennett can’t actually run as an independent because he didn’t unenroll from the Republican Party by March 1.)

Now, sure, Collins is a three-term incumbent. Sure, she’s got sky-high approval ratings. But that doesn’t really account for why she’s avoided an intra-party fight – just ask Mike Castle, the hugely popular Delaware congressman who lost his 2010 primary to Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell.

The truth is, Maine’s tea party was a force in 2009-10 because overall disgust with government and big business pushed new voters into the mix, attracted more moderate voters to whoever would reject the status quo. But the tide has receded, with a slightly improved economy and as nationally, the tea party has become more and more institutionalized.

It’s also hard to sustain that white hot intensity over a long period of time, particularly when your guy – Maine Gov. Paul LePage – is leading the state. When you’ve claimed one of the top prizes, it’s sometimes hard to stay hungry for more.

This post was updated at 9:53 a.m. on March 17, 2014.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.