The Maine Senate on Monday gave initial approval to a bill that would restore a presidential preference primary in the state in 2020. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would add Maine to a list of states dumping party-run presidential nominating caucuses for state-run primaries starting in 2020 won support from the state Senate on Monday, but cost and opposition from most Republicans could prove to be a hurdle.

Messy caucuses in 2016 led to a bipartisan push to re-establish primaries, which Maine last had in 2000. A bill signed into law by then-Gov. Paul LePage was amended to call for a study of reinstating primaries that the Legislature has to act on again to make the switch, which would require an estimated $122,000 in state funding and raise municipal costs by $857,000.

Since then, the two parties have diverged on a 2020 primary, which is backed by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat. President Donald Trump isn’t expected to have a serious Republican primary challenger. More than 20 well-known Democrats are competing for that nomination.

A bill by Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the co-chair of the Legislature’s voting committee, won initial approval in the Senate in a 19-13 vote on Monday. Only one Republican — Sen. Matt Pouliot of Augusta — voted for it alongside all Democrats who were present.

The proposal would slate Maine’s new primary for Super Tuesday, a date used by 13 other states that falls next on March 3, 2020. While Maine saw record caucus turnout in 2016, more than 2.5 times more people voted in the state during the open-seat 2000 primaries.

In 2016, the Maine parties backed the eventual runners-up for the Democratic and Republican nominations — Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ted Cruz of Texas, respectively. The Democratic caucuses were hampered by long lines and Republicans held regional caucuses that led to long travel times for people who wanted to cast votes.

Democrats have said the switch would increase voter participation, but Republicans have cited dueling concerns about cost and losing the level of control that activists have over the caucus process, which favors tightly organized campaigns that drive narrow groups of people to the polls.

Luchini’s bill faces further action in both chambers. The cost of the primary could be a hurdle for its implementation, because it could soon join a growing pile of bills that have been initially approved in the Legislature but remain unfunded. Republicans will look to kill many of them during the consensus process of drafting a two-year budget due on June 30.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...