PORTLAND, Maine — Thousands of Democrats from across Maine gathered Friday at the Cross Insurance Arena to rally the party for this year’s elections and begin the process of assigning delegates for the national convention in July.
The attendance was heavy — about 2,000, according to organizers — with more than double that expected Saturday.
“This is one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen on opening night at a state convention,” said Sam Shapiro, a former Maine state treasurer who was one of Friday evening’s speakers.
Most of Friday’s business was routine, though it was clear from the first procedural votes that there were contrarians in the audience. Whether that would lead to a floor fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters on Saturday, when most of the substantive business of the convention will happen, remains to be seen.
A declaration that at least 30 percent of delegates are present is a routine for the launch of the convention, but there were shouts for points of order and a healthy contingent of delegates voicing their votes against the order, which passed anyway.
“It wouldn’t be a Democratic convention without this,” Gerard Conley Jr., temporary convention chairman, said.
The delegates elected officers, including Portland Sen. Justin Alfond as convention chairman, and otherwise set the stage for Saturday. There also was plenty of partisan talk and slamming of Gov. Paul LePage and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“Just think of Paul LePage on steroids with a big bank account and you have Donald Trump,” Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills said in a scathing speech. “I shudder for my country.”
Attendees represented a cross-section of first-time convention attendees and old-school Democratic party loyalists. Michelle O’Meara of Saco, a Clinton supporter, said this was her first convention.
“I just wanted to see the process after having gone to the caucuses,” she said.
Richard St. Amand of Augusta has been to numerous caucuses. He said he felt like the tone of the convention was against him as a Clinton supporter.
“There are not too many of us here,” he said. “It’s too early to get worried, but when we’ve got Trump in the election, it’s scary. Bernie would probably be a better candidate against him, but I’m still supporting Hillary.”
On Saturday morning, the convention will consider an amendment to the state convention rules that would bind Maine’s superdelegates to proportionally support whomever wins Maine’s presidential caucuses, beginning in 2020. Some Sanders supporters said that’s what they want to happen, despite the potential risk of having national delegates disqualified from participating in the national convention.
“I’d like to see that rule become effective now,” Lynda Van Tuinen of Madison said.
The convention also will consider changes to the party’s platform and discuss campaign strategies for this year’s legislative races.
Surrogates for Sanders and Clinton will speak at midday, followed by featured speeches from 2nd Congressional District House candidate Emily Cain and 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree.