Poor Maine. There’s an old saying in Mexico that goes like this: “So close to the United States, so far from God.”

Maine’s plight, in the political sense, is “So close to New Hampshire, so far from the rest of the United States.”

It is a fact that Maine is the only state among the “lower 48” that borders only one other state: New Hampshire. To get anywhere, by land, we inevitably drive through the Granite State on our way to anywhere else.

We can live with that. What’s harder to live with is the knowledge that, when it comes to presidential races, New Hampshire gets all the love, and Maine, almost none.

Yes, it’s almost time for the New Hampshire primary – mark your calendars for Feb. 11. Then it’s Maine’s turn, sort of. Maine is, once again, holding a primary instead of a caucus.

It’s just three months from now, on March 3 – “Super Tuesday” – as one of 14 states participating. This year’s Super includes California, moved up from the traditional June date amid muscle-flexing by Democrats in the nation’s largest state. In New England, Massachusetts and Vermont are also voting; Maine’s attraction for front-running candidates is, again, almost nil.

This gripes people. During a legislative hearing earlier this year, I heard a representative give an impassioned address about the need for Maine to join the National Popular Vote Compact, something the Legislature mystifyingly voted down, once again.

The motivation, however, wasn’t the NPVC itself, but the outrageous amount of presidential candidate visits New Hampshire receives – nearly a 25-1 advantage.

New Hampshire became “first in the nation” in 1920, though presidential primaries didn’t much matter back then, when they were “beauty contests.”

Things got serious when New Hampshire decided to award delegates to presidential candidates in 1952, with historic results. Dwight Eisenhower’s big win over “Mr. Republican,” Robert Taft, convinced him to run, and win the presidency. Incumbent Democratic President Harry Truman’s loss to Estes Kefauver nudged him to retire.

The New Hampshire primary’s significance grew steadily. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey became the last major party nominee not to run in any primaries, and that was only because President Lyndon Johnson belatedly abandoned his re-election campaign, after a little-known anti-war candidate, Gene McCarthy, won 42%.

New Hampshire hasn’t been kind to Mainers, either. Ed Muskie’s 1972 campaign imploded after his unwise street-side retort to Union Leader Publisher William Loeb, in which he teared up, and perhaps cried – though his campaign was already in a financial death spiral.

So, if you haven’t heard about Maine’s presidential primary yet, it’s not surprising. Since the 1990s, Maine has shifted between caucuses and primaries three times.

Maine has chosen its nominees for Congress, governor and the Legislature through primaries since 1913. Its first presidential primary didn’t come until 1996, when Maine helped lead a campaign for a regional New England primary – but New Hampshire foiled the effort.

After one more outing in 2000, the Legislature gave up and went back to caucuses. Even though far more voters participated in Maine’s primaries than had ever attended a caucus, presidential candidates didn’t respond.

Then came 2016, and what for Maine Democrats (and many previously unenrolled voters) became the “Bernie caucus,” as the maverick U.S. senator from Vermont – unenrolled himself – turned out thousands of neophytes and nearly jammed the machinery at Deering High School in Portland, where voters stood in line for hours.

Thus, the return of Maine’s presidential primary. This time, unlike 1996, expectations are low.

If the primary doesn’t draw candidates, what’s it about? Perhaps it’s about us.

As impeachment rages in the background, this is a great time to study up on the candidates. Who is actually going beyond slogans, whether “Make American Great Again” or “Medicare for All,” and laying out a program that could reasonably bring, say, health care for everyone without all the bills?

Who wants to regulate monopolies like Amazon, Google and Facebook that are having a major, not entirely positive, effect on all our lives? Who’d like to start taxing the rich, rather than the poor, as we’ve been doing for the past 40 years?

And who could actually deliver these public goods, rather than just talk? With 20 Democratic candidates, plus or minus, on the ballot, votes from a relatively small number of Mainers could actually mean something.

For Republicans, there will also be choices. Might Republican voters want to file a protest against an incumbent president, as Democrats did in 1952 and 1968?

The possibilities, in that sense, are limitless. Ignore the noise, get the facts and – of course – get out and vote on March 3.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, opinion writer and author for 35 years, has published books about George Mitchell, and the Maine Democratic Party. He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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