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Sen. Susan Collins Faces Pressure On Kavanaugh

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If and when a vote of the full Senate on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh happens, whether or not he gets confirmed could rest with a handful of undecided centrist Republicans. Maine Senator Susan Collins is one of them, and she is under intense pressure from liberal activists back home. Steve Mistler from Maine Public Radio has the story.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No-no Kavanaugh, bye-bye Collins. Bye-bye Collins.

STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: Protests at Collins' constituent offices have been frequent ever since Donald Trump became president last year. But the women chanting outside of the office on Thursday revealed how some have changed their efforts to persuade a politician whose long political career is built on a reputation as a moderate. Before, there was hope that Collins, who identifies as pro-choice, would oppose Kavanaugh, who these activists view as a threat to abortion rights. Now there's a growing belief among people like Gail Foss that Collins will join other Republican senators and vote to confirm him.

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GAIL FOSS: And I am so furious at our senator. I miss rational Republicans.

MISTLER: The anger directed at Collins has been building for weeks. And so has a crowdfunding effort that's using small-dollar donations to illustrate the electoral consequences she'll face if she seeks another six-year term in 2020.

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UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #1: If you vote to confirm Kavanaugh, we're not going to stop fighting until you're defeated.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #2: Mainers need you to stand up and be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #3: Be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #4: Be a hero.

MISTLER: The so-called Be a Hero Campaign vows to fund Collins' re-election opponent if she votes yes on Kavanaugh. If she votes no, the campaign will refund the money. It's raised nearly $1.5 million so far, with over 50,000 contributors.

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SUSAN COLLINS: That to me has all the earmark of an attempt to bribe me. I just think that is unethical and appalling.

MISTLER: Collins recently told Maine Public Radio that the fundraising campaign is disgusting and possibly illegal. She also says several people calling her office have used vulgar and threatening language, a complaint that's prompted some to accuse her of using a few nasty calls to tarnish everyone who wants her to vote against Kavanaugh.

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COLLINS: The level of debate on this nominee has truly sunk to new lows.

MISTLER: And all of that was before the pending confirmation vote was rocked with allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school during the early '80s. The accusations reinvigorated the pressure campaign, sparking ads like this one from Demand Justice, a dark money group that advocates for liberal judges on the Supreme Court.

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UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR #5: When 15-year-old Christine tried to scream, her attacker covered her mouth so no one could hear. Will Susan Collins listen to her now?

MISTLER: Collins says Professor Ford and Kavanaugh should both testify under oath at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week. She remains undecided and says constituents' views are welcome, even if the ad campaign and fundraising effort are not.

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COLLINS: I think the people of Maine know me well enough that that's not how I would ever make a decision.

MISTLER: Some view Collins' critical comments about the timing of the Kavanaugh allegations as a sign that she's inclined to put him on the country's highest court. But until Collins announces her decision, the effort to get her to vote no is certain to continue. For NPR News, I'm Steve Mistler in Portland, Maine.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BROKEN KEYS' "THE INVISIBLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.