AUGUSTA, Maine — Only five Maine Democratic officials in state offices have said publicly that they’re backing a candidate in the party’s crowded presidential race so far with some anxiety about how the eventual nominee would fare against President Donald Trump.
The Bangor Daily News sent a survey on the 2020 race last week to 116 elected Democrats — Gov. Janet Mills, two U.S. representatives, legislators and Maine’s three constitutional officeholders — and just 11 filled it out by Thursday, with many saying it was too early to weigh in.
The highest Maine officeholder to endorse is State Treasurer Henry Beck, who is backing Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has two endorsements. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas have one each.
Democrats’ reticence to pick a candidate is no surprise, given the uncertainty in the 24-person field. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been the frontrunner in national polling, but his edge has diminished recently amid surges from Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris.
In 2016, Sanders was the runaway winner in the Maine Democratic caucuses in a one-on-one challenge to Hillary Clinton, the eventual nominee. But Sanders has more competition in 2020 after other candidates have appropriated many of his progressive policies to varying degrees.
Maine will switch to a presidential primary in March 2020, which will bring higher turnout and could bring the state more in line with the rest of the country. A June poll from Florida-based Gravis Marketing showed Biden leading here with Warren in second place and Sanders in third.
On Thursday, Beck cited Buttigieg’s military service and his experience leading a midwestern industrial city as reasons for the endorsement, saying “his skill on the campaign trail can lead Democrats to victory up and down the ticket in 2020.”
“Mayor Pete is a unique candidate at a unique time,” Beck said. “He can heal the divisions in this country, and he is everything that Donald Trump is not.”
Sanders is supported by Reps. Ben Collings and Mike Sylvester of Portland. Both backed Sanders in 2016, and Collings served as Sanders’ Maine campaign director. Sylvester said “every idea that the other candidates are running on, he has espoused for years.”
Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford backed O’Rourke in social media posts earlier this year. Warren is backed by Rep. Janice Cooper of Yarmouth, who said Warren “has the clearest framework for explaining the economic struggles of most Americans.”
Of the Democrats who filled out the survey, three who backed Sanders over Clinton in 2016 were still undecided on the race. One was Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who said he would rank Biden first, Warren second and Sanders third at this point.
“If a Democratic candidate is to have success, then they’ll have to show the ability to unite the broad spectrum of supporters from different regions and demographics around the country,” he said.
Five of the 11 Democratic officials who responded to the survey were pessimistic or cautious about their party’s chances of beating Trump. Cooper said the Republican president will “stop at nothing to corrupt the process,” while some others hoped their party would nominate a centrist.
“The far left philosophies of the various candidates are essentially tone deaf to my constituents’ beliefs and priorities,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, a moderate from Windham, “which, by the way, are not that different from most of apolitical Americans.”