AUGUSTA — With the Democratic presidential primary more than six months away, party leaders are beginning to choose sides.

State Treasurer Henry Beck was the first to make his preferences public when he declared this week his support for Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

“He is thoughtful and positive and hopeful,” Beck said Wednesday, a unique and audacious candidate.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, during a New Hampshire campaign stop in February.

If any other top Democrat in Maine has jumped onto a candidates’ bandwagon, they are keeping it quiet. Nobody holding high office in the state or the party other than Beck appears to have made a public statement of commitment to a presidential hopeful.

Gov. Janet Mills is among the party leaders who is not ready to pick a favorite.

Her press secretary, Lindsay Crete, said Tuesday that Mills “has met and knows many of the candidates personally.”

“Like many Maine people, she is continuing to learn about the candidates and their positions, and is not backing anyone at this time,” Crete said.

Maine Democrats will pick their favorites during a March 3 primary, billed as Super Tuesday, because, at least for now, 14 states are slated to vote that day, including California and Texas.

Buttigieg is among the party’s top contenders despite his thin political resume.

Beck, 33, said the Indiana mayor’s military background and executive experience on the local level are important, but it may help him that he is not part of the Washington crowd and has not been around a long while.

“It’s time to take the long view and think about the next generation,” Beck said.

He said Buttigieg does not have a formal campaign in Maine yet, but there is growing grass-roots support for him.

A poll last month by Gravis Marketing found Buttigieg had the backing of 8% of Maine Democrats, putting him behind three of more than two dozen people vying for the party’s backing to take on Trump.

The poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden with the support of 25% of Mainers, with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 17% and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 15%.

But the poll was taken before a surge in the polls by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and results at this point do not mean a lot in any case.

State Treasurer Henry Beck

Beck said he hopes Buttigieg will come to Maine to campaign. He said he is talking with the campaign about what is possible.

Candidates are mostly focused on the first caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. But they are keenly aware that a third of the delegates are likely to be awarded on Super Tuesday.

Super Tuesday refers to the day in a presidential election year when the largest number of states and territories hold presidential preference primaries or caucuses.

Two other New England states, Massachusetts and Vermont, are also voting that day in the Democratic primary. New Hampshire has the nation’s first primary Feb. 11.

Maine has not held a presidential primary since 2000, opting instead for more thinly attended party caucuses. But state lawmakers agreed this year to change permanently to a primary system.

Based on Super Tuesday results, Maine Democrats will allocate 24 national convention delegates proportionally.

In addition, Maine has eight delegate slots for party leaders and elected officials, including Mills, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and its four members of the Democratic National Committee.

Nearly all of New England’s party leaders have yet to endorse anyone in the presidential race. In Vermont, a few are supporting Sanders while Warren has a handful of backers in Massachusetts, including 1988 presidential nominee and former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, endorsed Biden last month.

Beck, a former state House member from Waterville who is in his first year as treasurer, said he is not a fan of all the infighting and cultural warfare within Democratic ranks.

Buttigieg, he said, is doing well at trying to stay away from Twitter wars.

“We have to think about the message and the messenger here,” Beck said.

Regardless of whether Buttigieg winds up as the nominee, he said, the Democrats have a strong field to challenge the re-election of President Donald Trump.

“On their worst day,” Beck said, “they are better than our current president.”

Not surprisingly, the Maine GOP has a different take.

“There is not a single candidate in the field of Democrats whose positions will stand up against President Trump’s accomplishments and agenda for the people of Maine,” Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said Wednesday.

Savage said “the pack of 2020 wannabees are pushing policies” that would hurt Mainers, including their readiness to do more for immigrants and their support for universal health care.

“Anyone who believes these policy initiatives are better than President Trump’s booming economy, increased funding to combat the opioid epidemic and work to lower the price of prescription medication needs to re-evaluate their priorities for America,” Savage said.


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