These are good times for Republicans in Maine. If they want a break from attacking Democrats, they can sit back and watch Democrats attack one another.

Four months after the excruciating 2016 presidential election, Democrats in Maine are still trying to figure out what happened. It’s an important question to nail down, because until you do you can’t really say what the party stands for and where it’s going.

Are Democrats the party of southern Maine liberals, devoted to environmental protection and civil rights? Or is it the party that Bernie Sanders spoke about, laser-focused on economic justice?

Plenty of Democratic leaders would say that it’s both, and that the only way to win on any of those issues would be to bring everyone together. They are right, but that might not be as easy as it sounds.

There are still wounds from 2016 that have not healed since the election. Talking to a Democrat these days is like talking to a Southerner about the Civil War: They remember every skirmish in excruciating detail, and they know what might have happened if some small factor had broken the other way.

Wikileaks is their Pickett’s Charge.


Bernie Sanders supporters are convinced that the nomination was stolen from their man, or at least, that the competition against Hillary Clinton had not been fair. They believe that Sanders would have beaten Trump, so the Democratic establishment is ultimately to blame for everything Trump does.

Clinton supporters are less vocal in their complaints about Sanders, but you shouldn’t take that to mean that the wounds are not as deep.

In a column published Sunday, Cynthia Dill, a former Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, lashed out at the “Bernie Bros,” a know-it-all subset of the Sanders army, who, Dill says, attacked Clinton’s character during the primary campaign in ways that crippled her general election chances. Dill is convinced that the attack was motivated by sexism, and the men who made it had no place in the Democratic Party that she belongs to.

The column got a huge response, largely from people who hated it. Many of them who wrote did not want to publish a letter to the editor or to argue with Dill. They wanted her to be fired. They wanted her erased.

(Dill says she’s gotten numerous emails from people who said they agreed with her, but did not want to face the backlash by saying so in public.)

You don’t have to agree with Dill to agree that the Democrats have a lot of work to do if they are going to be able to re-establish themselves as a majority party in this state.


A gleeful Republican recently asked me to name the last Democrat other than John Baldacci to win a statewide race. The answer is George Mitchell in 1986. He was also the last Democrat to win 50 percent of the vote.

One statewide winner in 30 years is not a good sign that people are responding to your message.

Part of the problem for Democrats is a lack of leadership on the statewide level. After Dill’s column, a number of people complained to me that she does “not speak for Democrats.”

Of course she doesn’t, but who does?

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the state party, is the one some Democrats identify as their spokesman, and he makes a strong case for unity. But a party chairman is a behind-the-scenes figure. Leadership needs to come from people who have won elections, and there aren’t many of those on the Democratic side.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has been elected five times, but she represents only half the state. Sen. Angus King caucuses with the Democrats in Washington, but as an independent he has no ability or standing to get the siblings to stop squabbling.


Some are seeing an opportunity for the party in the protests that have emerged since the Trump inauguration in January. But if you want a left-wing analog to the tea party, look out.

The tea party has carried the Republicans to victory in a lot of elections since 2010, but they mobilized a base that is intolerant to compromise. They enforced purity tests on their own allies and drove out moderates.

If Trump hadn’t won this bizarre election, we would probably be talking about how powerful extremists had made the Republicans incapable of nominating a candidate with national appeal.

Maine Democrats will have to work through their differences quickly if they are going to make a serious claim for leadership next year.

And while they’re at it, expect Maine Republicans to enjoy the show.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

Twitter @gregkesich

Comments are no longer available on this story