Opinion

Presidential candidates come to Maine with an eye toward New Hampshire

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Democrats should be embarrassed.

But not for the typical reasons that might have quickly jumped to mind.

They should be embarrassed by the strength, depth and diversity of the field of candidates vying for the party’s nomination to face President Donald Trump.

The field looks like America.

Even some of the candidates who have already dropped out of the race were incredibly qualified to be president (Gov. Jay Inslee, for example).

In polling, personality, policy and demeanor, the Democratic field is lapping the current occupant of the White House, who is unfit for the job on just about every level.

And as the contest begins to build toward New Hampshire’s primary early next year, a number of those candidates are stopping in Maine.

On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was in town and drew a crowd of about 300 people. He followed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was in Portland over Labor Day weekend, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also visited in August. Author Marianne Williamson visited in May. Former Vice President Joe Biden came to town during his book tour in 2018, drawing a big audience to Merrill Auditorium.

Like a lot of Democrats, I’m still shopping for my candidate. I have a top three and a top five, but haven’t been able to make a final choice yet.

So I’m trying to see everyone who comes around, to hear what they have to say and to give them a chance before going to the polls in Maine’s new presidential primary on March 3.

Booker was inspiring on Saturday. His story of how volunteer advocates helped his family to break through redlining and buy their home shows the power of individual action. And his commitment to tackling gun violence and criminal justice reform resonated with me. He was immediately likable and charismatic.

After seeing and briefly meeting him, Booker has moved up in my rankings (too bad we won’t have ranked-choice voting in the Democratic primary next year).

Buttigieg inspired in a different way. Where Booker spoke in poetry, Buttigieg presented prose. Cerebral and thoughtful, his speech was more like a discussion you’d have with someone one-on-one. Buttigieg is young, smart and thoughtful, with a dream-candidate kind of resume.

I missed Sanders and Williamson. Sanders’ base in Maine remains strong after his victory during the presidential caucuses in 2016. Today, he’s got to be among the frontrunners here.

The candidates so far have focused their visits on Portland, and while that might feel like a snub to the rest of the state, there are good reasons for it.

Don’t get mad if you live in another part of the state.

Portland is the state’s largest city and is a Democratic stronghold, which makes it easier to build bigger crowds.

But at least in these early stages, that’s not why the candidates are coming here. It’s not really about Portland or Maine at all, or, maybe to be generous, it’s about Maine secondarily.

Maine doesn’t have a lot of voters or a lot of big political givers. During the 2018 campaign cycle, we ranked 41st among states when it comes to campaign contributions, according to OpenSecrets.org.

But what makes Portland a good place to visit is proximity.

The Portland media market extends into New Hampshire. Come to Maine and not only do you get to make friends here, but the news coverage goes into the state with the “First-In-The-Nation Primary.”

While 19 Democratic candidates were competing for attention at that state’s Democratic convention over the weekend, Booker got a media hit to himself for his visit to Portland.

I’m hoping all the candidates visit. And I hope they all have big crowds. You should go if you can — even if it’s a bit of a drive — and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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