While the nation’s eyes were rightly drawn to the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend, liberals were gathering in Atlanta for their annual Netroots convention. A chance for progressives from across the country to come together and hear from rising stars of the Democratic Party, Netroots is in many ways the liberal antithesis to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a similar annual event. This year, it was the division within the Democratic Party that was on display.

One example of this was in the treatment of two female Democrats running for governor in Georgia at Netroots. Stacey Evans, a white moderate, was shouted down by fans of Stacey Abrams, a liberal who was the first African-American woman to serve as a legislative leader for Democrats in Georgia. That wasn’t the only sign of division at Netroots: Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, laid out a true-blue progressive platform. She advocated single-payer health care, supported the goals of labor unions, and urged Democrats to fully embrace abortion rights. It was a stark statement that she would not moderate as a potential presidential candidate, running more in the mold of the UK Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn than Tony Blair or Bill Clinton.

Another potential 2020 candidate had a little bit too much on his plate last weekend to spend time speaking to liberal groups: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidante and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, would probably epitomize the party establishment to Netroots attendees. However, his leadership throughout the violence and protests in Charlottesville will likely elevate his national stature as moderate Democrats search for a viable alternative in 2020.

They won’t be the only two candidates, of course. We’re likely to see a large field of Democrats vying to take on Trump, just as Maine Democrats are going to see a number of candidates for both governor and the Second Congressional District. Here in Maine, the large field and likely intense primaries could well be a presage of the 2020 presidential race. The division amongst Maine Democrats seems to reach into the very upper echelon of the party, where some longtime stalwarts are firmly ensconced in the Bernie Sanders wing. That could certainly be a challenge for Democrats eager to retake the Blaine House after eight years of Paul LePage as governor. There’s no unifying candidate who can clear the field in the primary, as there have been in previous years.

A large primary isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a party, however. In 2010, Republicans had a crowded primary and went on to a surprising success in the general election. Most of the party quickly rallied behind LePage after the primary, leading to the GOP regaining control of the Blaine House and the Legislature for the first time in decades. Democrats certainly have reasons to be optimistic about 2018: the last time two different candidates from the same party won gubernatorial elections back-to-back was in the 1950s.

Just as they did in 2010, Democrats will likely face an independent center-left candidate — this time in the form of state Treasurer Terry Hayes. If the Democratic primary is particularly vicious, Hayes could certainly benefit, just as Angus King benefited from a divisive Republican primary in 1994. Hayes could also offer herself as a viable alternative option in a number of different scenarios, depending on who wins the Democratic primary. There aren’t many candidates running on the Democratic side who are moderate, pragmatic and independent in the way she is.

Democrats will face an uphill battle to rebuild their majorities here in Maine, as party leaders acknowledged at a recent forum in East Orland. They’ve got to find a new platform and a better way of presenting it to a disgruntled, unpredictable electorate. If the rifts within the party become too wide, they could easily alienate the independent voters they’ll need in the general, their liberal base, or both.

The Democratic Party would be wise to avoid the kind of intraparty warfare seen in the GOP of late. They should ignore the voices of those who want to purge the ideologically impure from the party. That kind of thinking has cost the GOP seats, both nationally and in the Maine Legislature. Rewarding their extremists is not how Democrats will win back hearts and minds, either in Maine or across the country. Endless infighting won’t get the votes of Americans sick and tired of partisan gridlock — something both parties should keep in mind.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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