A strange move for a challenger whose main mission is to convince voters in Maine that she’s a reasonable alternative to Susan Collins. In a debate last night, the moderator asked Sara Gideon whether she favors changing the number of Supreme Court justices, pointedly avoiding the term “court packing.” Gideon replied that she would be open to any proposal that would “help us restore an independent judiciary,” although she claimed that none of the current proposals passes that test.

“I’ll give you a straightforward answer,” Collins replied, “and not beat around the bush.” Collins adamantly opposed changing the Supreme Court:

https://twitter.com/NathanBrandWA/status/1321623898866241536

This is a very strange position for Gideon to take in an evenly divided state, and an evenly divided race. Collins has trailed in every poll this cycle against Gideon, but the margins have been narrow and polling infrequent at best. It’s the fight of Collins’ political life, having won her seat by 37 points in 2014 and 23 points in the 2008 Democratic wave. Two polls this month put Collins either behind by seven (Pan Atlantic) or four (Colby College), the latter being more recent with a much larger sample.

All Gideon has to do to close out is not to look extreme. And yet here she is, pandering to the hard-progressive Left by staking out openness to a deeply unpopular proposition like court-packing. Every poll on that issue shows opposition by a majority of voters. The most recent from Siena and the New York Times breaks out fairly consistently on the issue in partisan terms: Democrats support it but only 57/28, while Republicans (6/89) and independents (25/65) oppose it in stronger numbers.

Collins’ answer is the appeal to the mainstream. And that might be enough to convince waverers who haven’t yet cast their ballots that Collins is still the safe choice.