The last time Maine Democrats went to the polls they were not ready for a revolution.

On March 3, moderate Joe Biden won the Maine presidential primary without ever setting foot in the state or spending a dime on advertising. He beat progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who did have well-organized campaigns here, saying their proposals on health care and the economy were too costly and would turn off voters in a general election.

But March 3 seems like a long time ago. It was a pandemic ago. An economic collapse ago. A massive anti-racist uprising ago.

The next time that Maine Democrats vote will be July 14, Bastille Day, and we’ll find out whether the appetite for revolution has changed.

On the ballot is a three-way primary for U.S. Senate among Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport; Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, an activist and social services lobbyist, and Bre Kidman of Saco, a criminal defense attorney.

At stake is the party’s nomination to take on Republican incumbent Susan Collins, who is more vulnerable than at any time in her career. But because of the coronavirus lockdown, there has not been the kind of public primary campaign you would expect to see for such an opportunity.


There are no speeches, no crowds, no photo ops and virtually no public polling that offers any insight into whether the candidates are reaching voters.

That all would be good news for Gideon, who was the front runner going into the lockdown. She has all the outward signs of success – she raised a record $14 million by the March reporting deadline, and has the heavyweight endorsements of Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

There may not be any public polls, but the Republicans must have some, and the way that they are attacking Gideon indicates that they see her as the likely nominee. We have to presume that Gideon’s campaign also has polling and she is behaving as if there is no primary, focusing her attacks on Collins.

But the struggles of some establishment Democrats in New York and Kentucky against insurgent candidates last week might give Gideon some reason to be concerned.

The world has changed since the campaigns went into lockdown, and there was no indication that Gideon has changed with it. Her proposals for a Medicare buy-in sounds reasonable, but with 20 million people out of work, many of them losing health insurance, it seems small.

Betsy Sweet has not changed her policy book, either, but it seems more up to the scale of the problems the coronavirus has exposed.


Sweet is a supporter of a single-payer universal health care “Medicare for All” plan, and a Green New Deal – a massive public infrastructure and jobs program aimed at fighting climate change.

Kidman shares those positions and, if elected, would be the first transgender person in Congress, which is revolutionary in its own way.

Ever since Bernie Sanders won Maine’s Democratic caucus in 2016, there has been tension between establishment Democrats, who favor incremental reform, and progressive activists, who want big structural changes to government and the economy. So far, the establishment has done most of the winning.

In 2018, then-Attorney General Janet Mills won the governor’s primary against a field that included several more progressive challengers, including Sweet. Since it was a ranked-choice election, the progressives didn’t split their votes – they just got beat.

Then in March, Biden won the Maine primary, beating Sanders. If there was a revolution waiting to happen, it didn’t.

But it will be interesting to see if the changes in the world will have any effect on the way voters act in Maine.


One question is how many people will even vote.

In a normal, non-pandemic year, primaries have a low turnout. This year, the coronavirus has pushed Election Day into mid-July, the middle of a too-short Maine summer when most people have things other than politics on their minds.

But more than 100,000 Maine voters have requested absentee ballots – more than three times the number requested in the last statewide primary when both parties had contested races. To decrease congestion at polling places, absentee ballots will be available right up until  Election Day this year and the polls will be open for same-day registration and in-person voting for those who need it.

The three Democratic Senate candidates have one more debate, July 6, from their homes via videoconference and hosted by MainePublic.

After that, Maine Democrats will decide on Bastille Day what kind of revolution they are ready for.

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