Maine voters will participate in the largest, most consequential primary day of the 2020 presidential elections on Tuesday and also decide whether to keep or reject a law on mandatory childhood vaccinations.

This will be the first presidential primary election since Maine dropped the more complicated and time-consuming caucus system. And while the state hasn’t received much in-person attention from the candidates, Maine’s participation in the Super Tuesday primaries means registered Democrats will be casting their ballots at at time when their party’s nomination contest is still wide open.

“I think people are excited to go out and vote,” said Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who is a state co-chairman of the Bernie Sanders campaign. “I don’t think they like the way the country is going right now.”

Registered Democrats will have their choice of six candidates on Tuesday’s ballot who are still actively campaigning for the party’s nomination: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg dropped out over the weekend following the primary in South Carolina. Biden’s campaign appeared to be re-energized after his landslide win there, giving his supporters more hope headed into Super Tuesday.

Republicans will also technically hold a presidential primary but with only one contender in Maine: President Trump.

Fourteen states along with American Samoa and Democrats living abroad will participate in Super Tuesday. Those states account for roughly one-third of the Democratic delegates up for grabs in the nominating process thanks, in large part, to the involvement of such populous states as California, Texas and North Carolina.

Maine is running “closed primaries” this year, meaning that only individuals registered as a Democrat or Republican can cast ballots in those respective party contests. Unenrolled voters can join a party at the polls, as can individuals registering to vote for the first time on Election Day. But registered Democrats, Republicans or Green Independent voters cannot change their party affiliation at the polls in order to participate in another primary.

QUESTION 1

But there is another issue on the statewide ballot in which all registered voters can participate.

Question 1 on the ballot is a “people’s veto” effort organized by groups that want to preserve parents’ ability to claim religious or philosophical exemptions to Maine’s law requiring that children receive a bevy of vaccinations before attending school.

Last year after a contentious legislative battle, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill that eliminates those religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory vaccinations. Supporters said closing the exemptions was a necessary step to reverse an alarming drop in the number of children who enter schools without receiving vaccinations against pertussis, measles and other preventable diseases. Maintaining the “herd immunity” created by high vaccination rates also helps to protect children with weakened immune systems.

But opponents of the law collected enough signatures to send the issue to voters, arguing the mandate violates parental rights.

As with other “people’s veto” campaigns, groups on both sides having been battling voter confusion about the question’s wording headed into Tuesday.

A “yes” vote on Question 1 would overturn the law and allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for religious or philosophical reasons. A “no” vote would keep the law on the books, thereby requiring vaccinations before children can attend school except when a doctor grants a medical exemption.

PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS

With just 24 Democratic delegates up for grabs, Maine is the third-smallest prize for presidential hopefuls on Super Tuesday after Vermont and American Samoa. California, by comparison, has 415 delegates at play while Massachusetts has 91 delegates.

That likely helps explain why relatively few presidential candidates have campaigned in Maine this year, although several candidates or their national surrogates were making last-minute trips to the Pine Tree State.

On Saturday, Klobuchar addressed a crowd of several hundred people in Portland.

The Minnesota senator, who is battling Biden and Bloomberg for the moderate vote, emphasized her rural roots and experience at the local, state and national levels. Throughout her campaign, Klobuchar has also pointed to her election victories in both rural and urban Minnesota as well as her track record of accomplishments in the sharply divided Senate.

“I think Maine, that practical state that you are, understands that it’s important to have bold ideas that can actually get done,” Klobuchar said.

In 2016, Sanders easily defeated rival Hillary Clinton during Maine’s Democratic caucuses, winning 64 percent of the vote on a day when heavy turnout overwhelmed organizers at some caucus locations. The chaotic scene in Portland at several other caucus locations was a driving force behind the push to switch back to a presidential primary.

This year, Sanders is competing against five other Democrats who are still in the race. A recent Colby College poll of roughly 350 Democrats in Maine showed Sanders leading the pack of party rivals with 25 percent support followed by Bloomberg at 14 percent and Biden at 12 percent. The other three candidates — Warren, Klobuchar and Gabbard — were all in the single-digits.

Sanders’ supporters remain optimistic about the Vermonter’s chances in Maine, though, even if he doesn’t win by as large a margin.

“I think overall we are going to win and we are going to see a good turnout,” said Jackson, the Maine Senate president.

Bloomberg made two stops in Maine in late January as part of his strategy to largely skip campaigning in the first four battleground states and, instead, focus on the Super Tuesday contests. Bloomberg has been advertising heavily in Maine for months, as he has in other states voting on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Bloomberg’s Maine team and surrogates campaigned at the Cam-Am Crown International dog sled races in Aroostook County and knocked in doors in Bangor, Scarborough, Augusta and Lewiston.

Crystal Canney, state director for Bloomberg, said the campaign knocked on 21,000 doors in 50 towns in recent days and hopes to hit another 50 towns by Tuesday. The Bloomberg campaign has 20 paid staffers in Maine and more than 100 volunteers.

“We are working very hard, and we are happy to do it because we believe our candidate is the only person who can beat Donald Trump, and that is job No. 1,” Canney said on Sunday. “Bernie Sanders cannot beat Donald Trump. And if Democrats want Donald Trump out of the White House, then the one candidate is Mike Bloomberg.”

Of course, Republicans are also gearing up for November even if their nominee doesn’t have to fend of any primary challengers.

Over the weekend, the Trump campaign held a “canvass launch” in Penobscot County and knocked on doors in support of the president and Garrel Craig, a Republican vying to to fill a vacant legislative seat representing Brewer. Craig is running against Democrat Kevin O’Connell in the special election Tuesday.

“Trump Victory has had boots on the ground in Maine since 2016, longer than any Democrat operation,” Nina McLaughlin, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “Our top-notch permanent ground game, comprised of battle-tested super volunteers, an unparalleled data program, and a vast fundraising war chest will continue to be a powerful asset to Maine Republicans up and down the ballot this Tuesday and in November.”

Voting in the presidential primary and on the vaccinations referendum will occur at municipal polling places. Most polls in Maine open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Election results will be available at pressherald.com Tuesday night as soon as they become available.

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