Democrats from across the state will gather in Portland for the annual state party convention beginning Friday.

The goal of the event, which will be held Friday and Saturday at the Cross Insurance Arena, is to build party unity but also to select the 30 delegates who will represent Maine at the national convention in Philadelphia in late July.

Although the event will not feature a traditional keynote speaker – often a nationally known Democratic leader – Maine’s most prominent Democrats will address attendees, including party chairman Phil Bartlett, 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Emily Cain, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the 2nd Congressional District, and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Additionally, representatives for the two Democratic presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – will speak.

The party confirmed Thursday that former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts will represent Clinton’s campaign, while former State Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash will speak for Sanders, along with Jon Fishman, drummer for the band Phish and a regular Sanders surrogate.

Bartlett said he expects roughly 5,000 people to attend and he envisions a smooth event.


“There are passionate supporters on both sides and they are excited about their candidates,” said the former state senator from Gorham who has chaired the party since early 2015. “We’ve seen that in other cycles, too, but I think the party will eventually come together. The differences between Sanders and Clinton pale in comparison to the differences between either one of them and Donald Trump.”

Senate Democratic leader Justin Alfond of Portland, who will preside over the convention, said he’s excited about the enthusiasm he’s seen.

“Look, we may not always have consensus, but we’re engaging in the best democracy in the world,” Alfond said before turning attention to the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. “I think Democrats understand that the stakes are high – not just because we have a presumptive nominee who doesn’t care who he throws under the bus or makes fun of, but because we’re living at a time when income-inequality is as high as it’s ever been and when the threat of climate change demands our attention.”

The Maine Democratic Party held its presidential caucuses in March. Sanders, a longtime Vermont senator, defeated Clinton, former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, handily in an event that saw unprecedented turnout statewide. Sanders supporters held a march and rally in Portland on Thursday.

Party officials estimated that 46,800 people participated in the caucuses, beating the previous record of roughly 44,000 participants in 2008. The Democratic turnout also dwarfed the 18,650 Republicans who participated in their party’s caucus. Because of that high turnout, many Democratic caucus-goers endured long waits and prompted some leaders to call for replacing Maine’s caucus system with a primary system.

Although Sanders’ populist message has resonated in Maine and Northeast states and caucus states, he still trails Clinton in the all-important delegate count.


According to an Associated Press tally this week, Clinton leads in pledged delegates 1,683 to 1,362. She has an even bigger edge in superdelegates, 522 to 39. Pledged delegates are based on state primary results, while superdelegates are free to support any candidate. The winner needs 2,383 delegates to become the party nominee.

Most political experts seem to agree that Sanders cannot overtake Clinton prior to the national convention, although he has pledged to stay in the race until the last votes are counted. Over the weekend, Sanders made a plea to superdelegates to consider switching their allegiance.

On the Republican side, Trump won the Indiana primary on Tuesday, a win that prompted his two remaining primary opponents – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich – to suspend their campaigns. Trump has seemingly turned his attention to Clinton as his likely general election opponent.

Bartlett said Trump’s ascension to nominee “demonstrates what’s at stake.”

“He’s built (his campaign) by using fear and division to try and win election,” he said. “It’s nothing new, but it’s really troubling to Democrats.”

On Friday afternoon, convention participants will have the opportunity to sit in on one of a half dozen workshops dedicated to specific policy issues. They are: community responses to Maine’s drug crisis, women’s health, encouraging people to run for office, welfare, climate change and building a Democratic Municipal Committee.


The inclusion of welfare reform as a topic is noteworthy because Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who won re-election in November 2014, relied so heavily on that issue during his campaign.

Alfond acknowledged that Maine Democrats recognize that the welfare system is broken but he said any changes need to be smart.

Other topics, specifically climate change and women’s health, offer Democrats an opportunity to separate themselves more clearly from the Republican Party.


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