In this Feb. 16, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, right, poses for a photograph with a supporter after a campaign stop in Denver. Colorado voters will cast their ballots in the state's primary election Tuesday. Credit: David Zalubowski | AP

Good morning from Augusta. It’s Election Day in Maine. Here’s a guide to the presidential primary and other Maine races on the ballot. You can follow the results here with the Bangor Daily News after polls close. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This committee can do anything it wants, quite frankly,” state Rep. Danny Martin, D-Sinclair, said of a proposal to increase salaries of the governor, judges and lawmakers. “What’s going to be hard is to get bipartisan support if we are going to get anything enacted.” An evergreen sentiment in line with an item below. Here’s your soundtrack.

What to watch for on Election Day

Sanders is the favorite in Maine. Will Biden’s national rise translate here? Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won Maine’s caucuses in 2016 and was leading in a poll of the state in mid-February, is looking for another victory here. The senator picked up another batch of endorsements this weekend.

But former Vice President Joe Biden has momentum nationally after a decisive win in South Carolina and endorsements from two recent presidential dropouts, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who had been in second place in the poll that had Sanders up just a few weeks ago. A handful of Buttigieg and Klobuchar endorsers in Maine said they will now back Biden, too.

Those exits may give Biden a shot at meeting the 15 percent threshold to win a share of delegates in Maine, alongside former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Maine is one of 14 states voting in the Democratic primary today. What happens here will not necessarily line up with the results nationally. But it could be an interesting bellwether of where Maine Democrats stand ahead of several other competitive races later this year. 

In the Democratic primary, people who voted for a candidate who dropped out do not have the chance to change their vote. There might be a lot of them. More than 34,000 absentee ballots were issued to Democrats ahead of the party’s presidential primary, and 22,000 were accepted through Feb. 27, according to data from secretary of state’s office.

Many of them likely voted for one of the three candidates — Klobuchar, Buttigieg or billionaire activist Tom Steyer — who dropped out of the race in the past few days. Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, a Buttigieg endorser, said on Monday she was one of those voters.

Absentee ballots cannot be recalled once they are submitted, meaning that Mainers who voted early for Buttigieg, Klobuchar or Steyer are stuck having voted for a candidate no longer competing. We’ll get a sense once results come in of just how many of these ballots there are.

Mainers will also decide whether to keep a new vaccination law. It’s unclear what’s going to happen. The people’s veto, Question 1, asks voters whether they want to reject a stricter vaccine law passed last year that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for mandatory vaccinations. There has not been any polling on the referendum, so it is not exactly clear which side has an edge. 

There is an important environmental factor. The law passed largely along partisan lines in the Senate, with Democrats generally in favor of the law, while Republicans have largely opposed it. The presidential primary has led to a historic 39-point gap in absentee ballot requests between Democrats and Republicans, so it could be a tough road for the “yes” side.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Susan Collins declines to say if she backs Trump in uncontested Maine primary,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Asked about whether she would support Trump in an interview with News Center Maine on Friday, [U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine] said she voted by absentee ballot, but she did not say how she voted. Her campaign declined to provide additional comment. She is one of Democrats’ top targets in the 2020 election.”

Two of the four Democratic candidates running against Collins in 2020 have endorsed Sanders with two holdouts. Lobbyist Betsy Sweet and lawyer Bre Kidman have backed the Vermont senator in the presidential election. House Speaker Sara Gideon, the front-runner in the primary, hasn’t endorsed alongside former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse.

LaJeunesse released a new ad hitting Gideon as “just one career politician trying to replace another.” LaJeunesse didn’t register among the primary field in a poll of the race last month by Colby College, but he has self-funded much of his bid to date. He attacked both Collins and Gideon in a one-minute ad released on Tuesday, deriding Gideon as a “career politician” while highlighting contributions to Gideon from political actions committees that take money from corporate PACs. It’s a similar line to one Collins used last month.

— “Chellie Pingree asks feds to halt plans for ICE detention facility in Scarborough,” Nick Schroeder, Bangor Daily News: “They are pushing for more transparency, saying that an ICE facility could traumatize veterans who seek services at a veterans health agency slated to operate in the same building. Specifically, they are encouraging ICE to conduct public meetings in Scarborough and present its plans for this facility.”

— “Gov. Janet Mills convenes a coronavirus response team for Maine,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “[The Democratic governor convened a coronavirus response team on Monday to coordinate the state’s efforts to limit potential spreading of the virus known as COVID-19. The risk of the virus in Maine remains low. There are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, and the only person who met federal requirements to be tested for the virus tested negative.”

Transportation funding commission likely to defer to Legislature

After months of debate, it’s time for a commission convened to fix the state’s transportation funding shortfall to make a choice. It has options: make no recommendation, propose a funding formula, or make a more general solution that the Legislature will have to fill in. After a tense meeting last month, the third option is looking to be the most likely when the commission holds its final meeting today.

Having bipartisan, unanimous agreement on a solution is seen as key to any recommendation’s success. The majority of the group agreed last month that a mix of general fund dollars and increasing the gas tax is the way to bridge Maine’s $232 million transportation funding shortfall, which assumes $100 million in borrowing. But Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a member of the commission, is leery of increasing the tax and wants more funding to come from the state’s vehicle sales tax. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, has floated putting off a solution to next session, relieving the pressure of deciding in an election year. 

If it does not have a solution, the commission is likely to be seen as a failure. Putting forward a recommendation that identifies the funding problem and proposes a general solution lets the commission walk away technically successful — but it leaves the tricky work of creating a funding formula up to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated...