The cutoff date to qualify for Maine’s recently reinstated presidential primary has come and gone, giving us a clear picture of the options on both sides of the aisle. The Republicans won’t be having a contest, as only Donald Trump qualified for the ballot. But the Democrats sure will.

A dozen Democratic candidates gathered the necessary signatures to appear on the March 3 ballot; the only one who didn’t make the ballot was former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, who dropped out of the race last Thursday. A presidential candidate failing to make the ballot in every state is a sure sign that they’re not a serious contender, so that’s not much of a surprise.

What’s more of a shock is just how many other candidates succeeded.

Not only did all of the major candidates qualify, but lesser-known figures such author Marianne Williamson, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard all were able to as well. That was impressive in all three cases, since none are considered top-tier candidates and they can’t just endlessly throw money at their campaigns like some of their billionaire opponents. In a different year – or even in this year – they all might be considered fringe candidates, but Trump’s success in the GOP has inspired a number of unusual Democratic candidates as well.

Gabbard, especially, could find support in Maine if she manages to stick around until Super Tuesday. She supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, and in this race has carved out a space in the Democratic Party somewhat akin to that of former Congressman Ron Paul in the GOP – though with much less support thus far. She’s opposed U.S. intervention overseas, has supported legalization of not only marijuana but other drugs as well, and she voted to audit the Federal Reserve – all positions that place her outside the mainstream in the Democratic Party, but could well appeal to many of Ron Paul’s supporters. She could also do well among her fellow veterans, of which Maine has plenty.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg could also be successful in the Pine Tree State. Like Gabbard, he served in the military, so could find support among veterans; however, he’s much more of a mainstream Democrat. Maine might not seem like fertile ground for Buttigieg, since demographically we’re one of the older states, but that hasn’t hindered young people from serving in office here. We’ve not only elected young people to the Legislature, they’ve often risen to positions of leadership – and John McKernan was only a year older than Buttigeg is now when he was first elected governor. Buttigieg’s youth could well help him a great deal in Maine, among young and old voters alike. For any Democrats who aren’t thrilled with the idea of nominating Joe Biden, but are instead looking for a fresh face, Buttigieg presents an intriguing option.

Another candidate who could do well here is former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Even though his gun-control referendum failed, it still endeared him to Democratic activists all over the state, just as his efforts have in the rest of the country. He’s well-known here, with an established political operation in the state that he can readily reactivate. Maine also has small, affordable media markets, making it easy for him to blanket our airwaves, as we’ve already seen. Historically, however, even though Maine is a relatively cheap date for campaigns, we haven’t shown much willingness to let our elections be bought.

Bernie Sanders may be hoping for a repeat performance of 2016 in Maine, but that seems unlikely. With so many candidates, it’s going to be harder for Sanders to consolidate the anti-establishment vote, as he did four years ago. He also faces another candidate trying to occupy his same ideological lane: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Nationally, she’s been splitting his base, and that’s going to be even more pronounced in New England. Switching from holding caucuses to having a primary is unlikely to help him; in 2016 he did much better in caucuses.

Next year, as in previous cycles, the results on Super Tuesday may bring a lot of clarity to the primary, but they probably won’t be the final word. That means that Maine Democrats will get the chance to have a real impact on their race, and with so many candidates scrambling for delegates, even a small state like Maine is unlikely to be ignored by the campaigns.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


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