By Scott Malone
(Reuters) - U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who helped block her party's efforts to repeal Obamacare this year, plans to reveal on Friday whether she will keep her focus on Washington or make a run for governor next year.
The four-term incumbent for weeks has been flirting publicly with the idea of launching a bid to succeed Governor Paul LePage, a fiery conservative who was first elected in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party support. State laws forbid LePage from seeking a third term.
Collins, 64, is popular in the state, having won re-election in 2014 with 68 percent of the vote.
"As a strong supporter of Susan Collins, if I had to pick which job she would do, I couldn't," said Lance Dutson, a Republican political operative in Maine who worked on Collins' 2014 campaign. "She holds a critical position in the U.S. Senate right now, and her colleagues don't want her to leave because she's seen as a voice of reason. But Maine has issues too."
Collins and LePage mark out the two poles of the state's Republican party, with the senator routinely working with Democrats in Washington while the governor has regularly fought with his rivals in the state capital Augusta.
LePage, whose combative style was a precursor of Donald Trump's approach to the presidency, has been a frequent critic of Collins, particularly when she attracted national attention as one of three Republican senators who in July voted against a Trump-backed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"Senator Collins is so busy trying to stop President Trump's agenda on the national stage, she is out of touch with her own state," LePage said in a radio address last week. "She puts other states ahead of the people she is supposed to represent."
Independents are a powerful force in Maine politics, with Collins' Senate counterpart, Angus King, one of only two independents in the chamber. LePage won both his campaigns with less than a majority of the vote, thanks to strong independent rivals.
Collins plans to reveal her decision at a meeting of local business leaders in the city of Rockland.
It would not be Collins' first shot at the Augusta state house. She ran for governor in 1994, losing to King.
Other declared candidates for the 2018 governor's race include Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills and Republican state Representative Ken Fredette.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis)