Democrat Shenna Bellows, a former American Civil Liberties Union leader who grew up without electricity or running water until the fifth grade, is attempting to cobble together a unique coalition of liberals and libertarians to try and upset Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
But while she’s been dubbed “the Elizabeth Warren of Civil Liberties” by the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, she also finds herself seeing eye to eye with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on issues of national security and foreign policy.
“I think he and I do share a lot in common in terms on our perspective on NSA surveillance and the USA Patriot Act and I think it would be very exciting to work with Republicans in the Congress to restore our checks and balances, to restore our individual liberties,” she told U.S. News in an interview.
Bellows is campaigning on repeal of the U.S. Patriot Act and wants to severely curb the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program – two issues that resonate with the left wing of the Democratic Party as well as libertarian-minded voters who propped up Ron Paul’s strong showing in the 2012 presidential caucuses there.
“What I think we need is targeting based on individualized suspicion, reasonable suspicion that people are engaged in criminal or terrorist activity,” she says in response to a question about what she thinks the NSA should be able to monitor.
Collins, seeking her fourth term, supports reforms to improve transparency and accountability but would not curtail the program to the extent Bellows wants to.
“As we increase transparency and erect further barriers to intelligence collection, we must be careful that we do not put our country at greater risk of attack,” she said in a statement last month.
Bellows’ candidacy was being largely ignored by national media until she revealed earlier this month she had raised more money than Collins during the last quarter. Now, she’s trying to capitalize on that news with a press blitz highlighting a grassroots campaign focused largely on local organizing in Maine’s 500 towns.
She hasn’t yet reached out to Warren or even home state Sen. Angus King, an independent, for advice or support. And perhaps mindful of the atypical coalition she’ll need to assemble in order to topple Collins, she carefully steered clear of an early endorsement of her party’s most beloved figure.
“I think Hillary Clinton is a wonderful role model for women who are interested in policy and politics. But I think it’s premature to state an endorsement for a presidential race,” she says. “I’ll make my decision in 2016. I’m really focused on 2014.”