March 12

Collins challenger among candidates who see potent weapon in surveillance issue

Opposition to domestic spying appeals to a range of midterm hopefuls, from progressives to tea partiers.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Shenna Bellows was entrenched in legislative battles over warrants and police surveillance in Maine last year when a state lawmaker asked the question: “Isn’t the problem at the federal level?”

click image to enlarge

Democrat Shenna Bellows, who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in November's election,sees the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities as a winning argument against incumbents who have defended aspects of the programs.

2013 Telegram File Photo/John Patriquin

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Sen. Susan Collins' campaign says she is listening to arguments from both sides of the NSA surveillance issue but that most Mainers are concerned about other topics.

2012 Telegram File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

Looking back, Bellows said those concerns were a key factor in her decision months later to resign from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and launch what is widely considered a longshot campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

In a midterm election dominated by economic debates, Bellows, of Manchester, and a handful of other challengers nationwide see the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic surveillance activities as a winning argument against incumbents who have defended aspects of the programs.

“Congress has authorized the NSA and other intelligence agencies to spend billions of dollars spying on ordinary Americans while cutting funding for other programs such as Head Start and education,” said Bellows, a Democrat making her first bid for political office. “Congress’s priorities are all wrong.”

Collins’ campaign, meanwhile, said she is listening to arguments from both sides of the issue but that most Mainers are concerned about other topics.

“Everywhere she goes, people tell her that their number one concern is sluggish job growth in our still-lagging economy,” said Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley. “As American families continue to struggle to get the jobs they need at wages they deserve, it is more important than ever for members on both sides of the aisle to do everything they can to embrace policies that will help employers grow, succeed, and create jobs.”

Bellows agrees that the economy is the top issue, but she is not alone in hoping to capitalize politically on the NSA controversy.

In a smattering of congressional races across the nation, Democrats and Republicans are courting a cross-section of voters – from far-left liberals to Constitution-quoting tea partiers – who may differ on other policy issues but are united in anger over what they see as the degradation of civil liberties.

“What makes this issue especially interesting is that it is largely nonpartisan,” said Dave Maass, spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates nationally on electronic privacy and consumer rights issues. “This is something that doesn’t come down on the right or the left. The true progressives are opposed to NSA surveillance and the true conservatives are opposed to NSA surveillance.”

In South Carolina, the primary challenger to veteran Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, state Sen. Lee Bright, is running as a constitutionalist and has targeted Graham’s defense of the NSA programs in ads. Primary opponents of Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas are also seeking to capitalize on concerns over potential NSA overreach.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, meanwhile, has said that he believes his outspoken criticism of the NSA domestic data collection could help him in what could be a tight re-election campaign. Underscoring the division within Republican ranks on the issue, a Republican National Committee resolution calling for an immediate halt to “unconstitutional surveillance programs” was promptly denounced by Republicans who formerly held top Homeland Security positions.

Polls suggest that many Americans are concerned about the surveillance programs.

A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll in mid-January found that 53 percent of respondents disapproved of the NSA programs while 40 percent approved. That is a reversal from June – soon after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents to the press – when 50 percent of survey participants approved of the programs while 44 percent disapproved.

Yet despite Americans’ apparent discomfort with the NSA programs, there has been no widespread public outcry to end the massive data collection.

(Continued on page 2)

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