A surge in attendance at this year’s Maine Democratic Party caucuses provides hope to state residents seeking progressive victory.
On Sunday, Democrats gathered in cities and small towns around Maine to participate in the party’s election year caucuses, electing local representatives to serve as delegates to the state Democratic Convention in May.
At a time when progressive activists are mounting a fierce counterattack against President Donald Trump and the GOP, resulting in some surprising special election victories across the country, the Democratic wave of enthusiasm seems to have caught hold in Maine as well.
The Maine Democratic Party announced there were more than 4,000 participants statewide in Sunday’s caucuses, the highest-ever turnout in a non-presidential election year since the party began keeping records in 2000. The state Democratic Convention is slated for May 18 to 20 in Lewiston.
The series of meetings on Sunday gave Democrats a chance to officially kick off the election season in town halls and community spaces across the state’s 16 counties, gathering in the largest cities including Portland and Bangor, as well as diminutive municipalities such as Liberty (2010 population: 913).
Party members elected county committee members and town officers, discussed policy platforms, and heard from candidates running for office on the local, state, and national level.
Maine Democratic Party Chair Phil Bartlett said Monday that people are coming out in record numbers “to say there is a better way.” Bartlett stated in a press release:
We came together at the grassroots level to show that we are organized and that we are determined to elect Democrats at every level of government who will fight for economic opportunity, affordable health care, and stronger schools. Together we will build a thriving, forward-looking economy in Maine that will support and empower our hardworking families. I am proud of the work we accomplished yesterday and look forward to continuing to build on this momentum all the way to victory in November.
Party members were encouraged to share their caucus experiences on social media using the hashtag #VictoryStartsHere. Numerous photos submitted from sites around the state show attendees holding signs proclaiming, “Victory Starts Here.”
Participants also held signs proclaiming “Victory Starts In,” followed by their town name, and “Victory Starts With,” followed by slogans such as “Health Care for All,” “Union Power,” and “Community.”
Betsy Sweet, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, told 50 States of Blue she found “incredible excitement and enthusiasm among all Democrats yesterday.”
Sweet said her campaign had 103 volunteers in the field, including 24 surrogate speakers, and collected more than 1,000 signatures for her “clean elections” campaign, through which Maine candidates can become eligible to receive taxpayer money after reaching a threshold of donors to the state fund.
“It is a great time for a Democratic sweep,” Sweet said. “And I think there is the energy in the Democratic Party to pull it off. The caucuses were just the first step to a big victory in November.”
Maine Sen. Mark Dion, another contender for the office being vacated by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, spoke Sunday in Portland, Westbrook, and his hometown of Lewiston.
“The big turnout of Democrats, especially in many of the smaller towns, was heartening and encouraging,” Dion told 50 States. “Their commitment and enthusiasm will carry us through the primaries and on toward the November election.”
Gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote began Sunday on the Canadian border in Fort Kent, and by the end of the day had attended caucuses within 55 miles of the New Hampshire line to the south.
Cote told 50 States that voters want to see improvement in an economy that lags behind the rest of New England and “they really, really want to be sure we win in November.”
“You do not get this kind of record caucus turnout when people are looking for more of the same,” Cote said. “This is a change election.”
The field of Maine Democrats running for office has decreased slightly in recent weeks, with gubernatorial candidates Sean Faircloth and Jim Boyle bowing out. In the race to unseat Maine’s independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, Zak Ringelstein remains the only Democrat in opposition after Benjamin Pollard’s March 2 announcement that he will face King as an independent.
Ringelstein told 50 States he was “blown away” by the “concerted passion” he encountered while visiting caucuses in Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, and Cumberland. Ringelstein added:
People are outraged by the way Governor LePage, President Trump, and corporate cronyism are destroying the very fabric of our democracy and we’re ready to take action in the biggest progressive wave Americans have seen in generations. It is heartening to see Mainers unify around getting money out of politics, enacting a single-payer healthcare system, divesting from fossil fuels, banning assault weapons, protecting Dreamers, reducing income inequality, and ending the era of college debt. These are the progressive policies that will save our democracy and give the next generation of Americans a better life than the last.
The Maine Republican Party will hold its convention in Augusta May 4 to 5. State Sen. Eric Brakey and financial planner Max Linn are both seeking the Republican nomination to contest King’s seat.