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Voters may be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. Senate race is between incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and Maine Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon. National Democratic and liberal groups have already spent millions of dollars to further that notion.
However, Maine’s Democratic voters still have an important voice in deciding who will challenge Collins in the fall. They are choosing between Gideon, lobbyist and businesswoman Betsy Sweet and attorney Bre Kidman.
It may be tempting for many voters to consider this race a done deal. Gideon has amassed far more financial support than Kidman and Sweet and polls show her with a commanding lead. But, as the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Kentucky shows us, voters may turn against the idea of national groups picking their nominee. Ballots are still being counted on Tuesday after last week’s U.S. Senate Democratic primary there. Amidst percent protests against racial inequality, state Rep. Charles Booker tightened the race against Amy McGrath, long the favorite of national Democratic forces.
It is a good reminder that elections are decided by voters, not outside interests.
As Maine’s Democratic voters mark their ballots in the July 14 primary, their choice is between a moderate with a lot of lawmaking experience in Gideon and two progressive activists in Sweet and Kidman.
Given Maine’s political landscape, the more moderate route makes the most sense. That’s why we recommend ranking Gideon as the first choice on the Democratic ballot.
read more: Why we endorse
Gideon, who began her political career on the Freeport Town Council, is in her second term as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. In her first two years as speaker, Gideon navigated a Republican-controlled Senate, and a House Republican caucus that was aligned with Republican Gov. Paul LePage and blocked many Democratic priorities and a state budget, which led to a three-day state government shutdown.
In the November 2018 election, Democrats gained full control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Democrats quickly expanded Medicaid and pushed through other progressive policies, such as paid leave and patient protections in case the Affordable Care Act ends.
Gideon lists her work on the opioid crisis and climate change and her legislation to lift children out of poverty and to expand training and education opportunities for low-income Mainers as her top accomplishments as speaker.
This year’s legislative session, which was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, has been especially difficult. After a flurry of activity in mid-March, which included giving the governor broad emergency powers and funds to respond to the pandemic, the Legislature adjourned on March 17. It had been largely absent from oversight and decisions until recent weeks. We understand the difficulty of holding meetings, in person and remotely, given the requirements both in statute and from a public health perspective. But the Legislature has an important oversight role that must continue to expand as Maine navigates both the pandemic and the economic downturn that resulted.
Sweet, who finished third in the crowded 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, has long worked as a lobbyist and activist. She wrote Maine family leave and clean elections legislation. She has helped build liberal coalitions to push policies and candidates over the years.
Although she has not held elected office, she knows how the political process works and where to apply needed pressure to get the right outcome.
As a progressive (along with Kidman), she supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and significant police reforms. These priorities — as well as her focus on empowering individuals not corporations — resonate with many Democratic Party members.
For progressive Democrats, she is a solid second choice, or perhaps even a top choice.
Kidman brings a very different approach to this campaign. Rather than build a campaign war chest, Kidman has spent most of the money donated to their campaign on helping Mainers cope with the coronavirus. The money has gone to buy groceries for needy Mainers and to support local organizations. They are also working to ensure that those who were arrested during recent protests across Maine have legal representation.
Kidman deserves credit for bringing attention to the absurd amount of money spent on campaigns and for instead directing money to worthy causes. Because this election uses ranked-choice voting, voters can support Kidman’s call for a new way of campaigning while also supporting either Sweet or Gideon.