In this Oct. 19, 2019 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters during a rally in New York. Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told Maine Democrats on Sunday that “police murder is an outrage” and said that creating a system that values the dignity of all people “starts with justice for George Floyd.”

The former Democratic presidential candidate told a “virtual rally” that replaced the state party convention that the Department of Justice should conduct an independent investigation of all police killings, including the death of Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis.

“We need a massive overhaul of policing in America which understands that a lethal response is the last response, not the first response,” he said.

Joining Sanders in delivering pre-recorded comments were two other former presidential candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, along with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and candidates seeking office or reelection including U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden of Maine.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was originally scheduled to participate, but he was removed from the program. The Democrat is the likely bet to win Maine, though Trump is favored in the 2nd Congressional District, where he won one of Maine’s four electors in 2016.

Democratic candidates and officials used their allotted times to tout their positions and to get people fired up to vote President Donald Trump out of office and to defeat Sen. Susan Collins to retake the U.S. Senate. The event was held as protests, some violent, swept across the nation throughout the weekend following the death of Floyd, who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing.

Sanders decried “systemic racism” against people of color and accused the president of being unwilling to fight injustice.

“What our people want is a nation that respects the fundamental human dignity of every person. That starts with justice for George Floyd,” he said. “But it cannot and must not end there. We’ve got to end the racism, oppression and massive inequality that currently exists.”

Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said in a Sunday interview with the Bangor Daily News that he expected Biden to perform poorly in Maine. He cited two main reasons: Biden’s advocacy for gun control and a partial embrace of the Green New Deal, a progressive proposal aiming to shift to 100 percent renewable energy.

LePage noted Maine’s 2016 vote against expanding gun background checks and speculated that the climate proposal would hike energy prices in a state where a majority of people rely on heating oil, though experts have gamed out long-term shifts to zero carbon in which prices would not rise for consumers.

“It’s going to be a disaster for him,” LePage said of Biden’s 2020 standing in Maine. “Hillary was a much, much better candidate than he’s going to be.”

The 2020 state convention was supposed to be held over the weekend in Bangor but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was replaced by the rally that was streamed online, along with virtual elections that started Friday and ended Sunday for delegates to the national convention and for state and national party officers.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.