February 21, 2020
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Maine switched to a presidential primary in 2020. Here’s why parties are still caucusing.

Charles Krupa | AP
Charles Krupa | AP
Residents cast their vote at a polling station at the Kennebunk Town Hall in Kennebunk, Maine, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Maine has switched to a nominating primary, but local caucuses to fulfill a legal requirement and kick off the formal nominating process.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa were a mess. In 2020, Maine has switched to a nominating primary that’s less than a month away. But the parties here are still caucusing to fulfill a legal requirement and kick off the formal nominating process.

Maine used party-funded local caucuses to pick presidential nominees between 2004 and 2016, similar to this week’s Iowa caucuses marred by results reporting issues. Last year, the Legislature passed a law switching to a presidential primary, which is happening March 3.

But the caucuses that begin the nomination process are still taking place. It’s a requirement under Maine law for parties to convene every two years to elect delegates to state conventions and pick leaders of municipal and county committees. In presidential election years, those people pick the delegates sent to national conventions to choose nominees.

Not all have been scheduled yet, but the Maine Republican Party’s caucuses — mainly organized by region — began this month and will run through March 8. Democrats will hold all caucuses that day mostly on a municipal basis. The Green Independent Party is also organizing caucuses.

President Donald Trump is unopposed on the Republican primary ballot. He is likely to win all of Maine’s delegates and be nominated easily. Ten active candidates are on the Democratic ballot. That race could be uncertain by the time Maine and 14 other states vote.

Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said his party is focusing at caucuses on signing people up to come to the state convention — where it’s putting together a “good lineup” of national speakers as Trump tries again to win the 2nd Congressional District in November — and doing party-building ahead of statewide, regional and local races.

The caucus mission is largely the same at the Maine Democratic Party. Seth Nelson, a spokesperson for the party, said it will be “building the grassroots coalition that we need to support our presidential nominee” and candidates for other offices. He said the party has had to work to clear up confusion about the caucuses because of the primary switch.

Republicans will elect up to nearly 5,500 delegates to the state convention to be held May 1 and 2 at the Augusta Civic Center, while Democrats will elect a maximum of 3,500 delegates to their convention May 29 and 30 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Bangor.

While Trump is likely to see unanimous party support, the Democratic slates of state and national delegates will be informed by the results of the Maine primary. Candidates must win at least 15 percent of votes to get any delegate share.

State Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, helped run a regional caucus in his town on Monday where the three Republican candidates for the 2nd District attended and overall turnout was better than it was in 2018. He attributed that to the presidential race and opposition to Gov. Janet Mills, saying the party is “really united going into 2020.”

 


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