AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s elected leaders have been cautious to endorse any candidate ahead of the state’s March 3 Democratic primary, though Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads in endorsements from current lawmakers with less than a week to go.
The large field of Democratic candidates, combined with an intense focus on defeating President Donald Trump, has led many of the state’s top elected Democrats to wait and see how the primary shakes out rather than endorse anyone.
Gov. Janet Mills has declined to endorse a candidate alongside U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District and House Speaker Sara Gideon, the frontrunner for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District backed Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado just before the New Hampshire primary earlier this month, but Bennet dropped out after receiving just 0.3 percent of votes in that contest.
Warren leads in endorsements in Maine, where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders got them in spades in 2016. He has not this time among a more crowded field. The Bangor Daily News surveyed Democrats holding statewide, congressional and legislative offices on endorsements last week and collected lists from campaigns. Among that group of politicians, Warren leads all candidates here with 17 endorsers, including Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby of Lewiston.
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Sanders is next highest with 11 endorsements from that group, still a low total given his 2016 win in the Maine caucuses with support from dozens of Democratic officials and his status as the front-runner nationally and in a Maine poll released last week.
His most prominent backer in the state legislature is Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash. The Vermont senator was also endorsed by two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, Saco lawyer Bre Kidman, who announced in early February, and progressive lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, who announced just two days before the primary.
Some of Sanders’ 2016 supporters have gone to other campaigns. Rep. Stephen Stanley of Medway, who endorsed Sanders ahead of the 2016 primary, was one of several state lawmakers to endorse former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg this month, saying he saw the billionaire as the only candidate who could beat Trump.
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Bloomberg has picked up endorsements from former U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District and Tom Allen of the 1st District. Former Vice President Joe Biden was endorsed by two Portland city councilors, Spencer Thibodeau and Nicholas Mavodones, while a third Portland councilor, Pious Ali, backed Sanders. State Treasurer Henry Beck backed former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
The cases for endorsing or not in the uncertain field vary widely among Maine Democrats. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who endorsed Sanders ahead of Maine’s party-run caucuses in 2016, said he would not endorse any candidate this time because his office oversees the Democratic primary. But he also thought the size of the field made it more difficult for any one candidate to consolidate support, including Sanders.
“Last time it was just him and Hillary [Clinton],” Dunlap said. “It was a pretty stark choice.”
Unseating Trump has been cited by Democratic campaigns as a top priority for Democratic voters in Maine. Many top Democrats have responded by waiting to see which candidate emerges the strongest rather than throw their support behind someone before the primary.
“People want that perfect candidate, and what determines that is really hard to judge,” Dunlap said.
Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, who supported Sanders in 2016, initially endorsed Warren earlier this month before throwing his support behind Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Gratwick said he wanted the next president to be a “highly intelligent woman” and remained a “profound admirer” of Warren, but he thought Klobuchar’s more moderate stances might give her a better chance in the general election.
While he has his preferred candidate, he said he would ultimately vote for “ABT” — anybody but Trump.