Susan Collins: Trump ‘should have been straightforward with the American people’

“The American people can take hard facts. And he had an obligation as President to be straightforward with them and to tell all that he has known,” Collins said in response to a question about Trump’s stunning admission to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that he had downplayed the severity of the virus.

“I have said since the beginning that the President’s performance has been uneven and that he should follow the advice of his excellent medical advisers,” Collins said Friday.

Her comments in the debate, which was sponsored by News Center Maine, the Bangor Daily News and The Portland Press Herald, separate her from other Republican senators facing tough reelection campaigns who have largely avoided criticizing Trump for his handling of the virus, including his comments to Woodward, whose new book, “Rage,” comes out Tuesday.

Vulnerable Republican senators like Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas declined to comment on Trump’s remarks earlier this week. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — whose seat is the second most likely to flip partisan control in CNN’s ranking of the top 10 most competitive Senate races — did not directly answer a question in a telephone town hall on Thursday about Trump downplaying the threat of the virus. Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and David Perdue of Georgia — all of whom face competitive races of their own — tried to defend the President and what they said were his efforts to calm the nation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is not up for reelection this year and who previously said she’s “struggling” with whether to vote for Trump, said Thursday that some of the President’s comments are “very, very, very concerning.”

“Some of the things I find quite surprising and quite concerning,” Murkowski told reporters.

Collins, who has refused to say whether she’ll back Trump in November, is facing Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon in an expensive contest. When Gideon challenged Collins in Friday’s debate on who she thinks should be “leading the country,” the senator did not answer, saying the Maine people don’t need her advice.

Running for reelection in a state Trump narrowly lost in 2016, Collins is balancing the need to appeal to the President’s base — who she also needs to turn out for her — against not further alienating moderate and independent voters.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, a CNN contributor, rates the race a toss-up.

Manu Raju and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.

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