Marpheen Chann is one of 32 delegates the Maine Democrats will be sending to the Democratic National Convention in August. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Watching last week’s presidential debate, it was clear to Marpheen Chann that President Biden wasn’t performing at his best.

But the Portland Democrat said he’s still supporting Biden for president because he feels that he’s the better candidate in the race and that it’s too late for the party to organize support for someone else.

“The stakes of this election are too great for him as a candidate to step down,” Chann said. “I think there’s a lot of things that could happen between now and (November), but for now, I trust him and believe that if he and his family believe he can do it, then the best bet is to continue to support President Biden.”

Chann is one of 32 delegates Maine Democrats will send to the Democratic National Convention next month, when the party will nominate a candidate for president. Several delegates said this week that, despite Biden’s fumbling debate performance last week, they’re still backing his bid for reelection and plan to support him at the August convention.

The debate wasn’t great, they said, but the reaction to Biden’s performance has overshadowed graver concerns about former President Donald Trump’s policies and positions.

“I am proudly committed (to Biden),” said Holly Sargent, a Democratic state representative from York and a delegate to this year’s convention. “This is a president who has done a tremendous amount for this country on all kinds of policies, brought us out of COVID and has represented us in a way we can be proud of.”

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Holly Sargent

Sargent said the debate was “clearly a difficult evening” for Biden, but she’s more interested in what his administration has done.

“I think he’s gathered an extraordinary team and I want to see that continue,” she said.

SUPPORT FOR BIDEN PREVAILS

Betty Johnson, 84, of Lincolnville, has been to almost every Democratic national convention since 1996, the most recent one held in Chicago before this year’s. Johnson is the state party treasurer and a Waldo County commissioner.

Betty Johnson

She’ll be representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District at the convention, and she was also elected to be one of the four electoral college voters for the state. Johnson said she is a pledged delegate for Biden.

“I’m very supportive of Joe Biden,” Johnson said. “We have to win. I’ll do what I have to do to represent Democrats at the convention and elect Biden. It’s gonna be tough. I think the energy is starting to flow a bit more.”

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Ryan Fecteau, a former Democratic Maine speaker of the House of Representatives from Biddeford, will be attending his first national convention as a pledged delegate and said it will be a good opportunity for Democrats to gather and rally around shared values that stand in contrast to the platform of Republicans and Trump.

Fecteau said that while he didn’t watch the entire debate, he understands that it “wasn’t the strongest start.”

Ryan Fecteau

Still, he is happy to support Biden. As someone who is openly gay, Fecteau said he feels confident that Biden’s administration would continue to support his rights.

“I know President Biden will ensure my rights are protected, that the rights of people of color are protected and that women have their rights protected,” he said. “For me, I don’t have the luxury to willingly not participate or vote for a third-party person. It comes down to my family’s rights, my rights and my ability to exist and my confidence that our president and his administration will support people like me.”

Chann, who serves on Portland’s planning board and is a former city charter commission member, said he also worries it is too late for Democrats to effectively organize around another candidate.

“We can’t be too short-sighted because of one debate performance,” he said. “We have to think about the cost to us in terms of messaging, campaign momentum and all the things that go into the build up before an election and that happen in the years leading up to the election … I think as Democrats we should be wary of being too short-sighted.”

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SUPERDELEGATES ALSO WEIGH IN

Of Maine’s 32 delegates, 24 are pledged to Biden, who won the state’s primary last month, while eight are considered “superdelegates” who are not bound to any specific candidate and can vote for whomever they wish.

The eight superdelegates, who include Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and party leaders, only vote if there is a second round of voting in the nomination process.

Bev Uhlenhake, chair of the Maine Democratic Party and a superdelegate, said she is excited to support Biden.

Last week’s debate provided a look at the differences between Biden and Trump, Uhlenhake said.

“President Biden kept talking about how he is going to move the nation forward,” she said. “President Trump wants to drag us backwards. … It’s a stark contrast, and I want to go with the person who will move us forward.”

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Mills has also affirmed her support for Biden in the wake of the debate, saying Wednesday after a meeting between the president and Democratic governors that he has her support, although she added that the debate was difficult to watch and it would be good for him to reassure voters.

Golden, meanwhile, published an opinion piece in the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday saying he believes Trump will win the election, “and I’m OK with that.”

Through a spokesperson, Golden declined a request from the Press Herald for an interview about the upcoming convention and his op-ed.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, center, said in a recent opinion piece that he thinks Donald Trump will win November’s election, “and I’m OK with that.” He declined to speak to the Press Herald about the piece or the upcoming Democratic convention. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Spokespeople for Pingree did not respond to questions about her support for Biden.

BJ McCollister, a Maine Democratic National Committee delegate and senior adviser for the Biden-Harris campaign in Maine, said in a statement that Trump “poses the greatest threat in modern history to our democracy, our economy and our freedoms.”

“The only way to defeat him is by reelecting President Biden, who has delivered for Mainers like me time and time again, including lowering costs for families, defending our freedoms and investing millions in our communities,” McCollister said. “I’m proud to be a delegate for President Biden – he continues to have my unwavering support.”

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DEBATE REACTION

Several delegates said they were disappointed in the president’s performance in last week’s debate, but that too much focus has been placed on Biden’s shortcomings and not Trump’s.

Johnson said she watched the debate and was not surprised at the outcome.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be a good one,” Johnson said. “How can you debate someone like that? It’s not Joe Biden’s fault. I just thought it wasn’t a good debate for either one of them.”

John Hennessy, of Portland, will be heading to Chicago as an at-large delegate pledged to Biden. Hennessy has been active in Maine politics for years and is now president of EqualityMaine, the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Hennessy said he was able to watch most of the debate and that his support for Biden remains steadfast.

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“I was certainly disappointed that the president was not able to break through Trump’s litany of lies,” Hennessy said. “I recognize everyone has a bad 90 minutes. We’re going to be fine with (Biden) at the top of our ticket.”

The convention in August will be Vicky Cohen’s first. Cohen, of Farmington, will be representing the 2nd District as a pledged delegate for Biden and said she is “absolutely over the moon about it.”

She watched the debate and said she is frustrated that the reaction has been mainly focused on Biden’s performance.

“You have two men with very different speaking styles and two dramatically different visions for the country,” Cohen said. “One candidate spewed a tsunami of lies, and the other stutters. Yet he has a vision of protecting democracy and fighting for us, for middle-class America, and has had a phenomenal three-year term so far.”

Vicky Cohen

Cohen said she had canvassed for Barack Obama in Maine but only started really engaging in politics after Trump’s election in 2016.

In addition to working as a math specialist at W.G. Mallet School in Farmington, she serves as the secretary for the state party and for the Franklin County Democrats.

“It’s become a 24/7 passion and engagement for me. My main focus is outreach, to listen to what the concerns are of voters in Franklin County,” Cohen said.

Staff writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report. 

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