Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, speaks at "Our Rights, Our Courts" forum New Hampshire Technical Institute's Concord Community College, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Concord, N.H. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

The first standard in considering a candidate in any presidential primary field, it seems to us, should be a simple one: Is the person a bona fide member of that party?

Bernie Sanders has served nearly 30 years in Congress, all of them as an independent. He has signed a loyalty pledge with the Democratic Party, caucuses with Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and Vermont has no party affiliation on its voter registration forms, so Sanders can technically claim the Democratic mantle. Yet, he has rarely worked with the party to make it stronger nor has he built broad Democratic support for his liberal ideas on health care and economic inequality. Further, there is a danger for Democrats that having an avowed socialist at the top of the ticket could hurt the party’s candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.

Sanders handily won the Maine Democratic caucuses in 2016, and it seems likely that he will win again. But there are better, real Democratic choices in the party’s March 3 presidential primary. We believe the best choice is Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar is a centrist who earns praise from Republicans. This should be seen as a benefit, not a drawback at a time when both political parties too often move to their extremes and gridlock is a hallmark in Washington.

Klobuchar, the only candidate to speak to the Bangor Daily News editorial board, brings needed realism, a track record of hard work, and an understanding of rural America to the job. She also has a record of winning in more conservative rural areas and among swing voters, important qualities in a Democratic nominee who will face President Donald Trump in November.

Governing is often frustratingly slow and incremental, but as a senator currently in the minority party in the Senate, Klobuchar knows this is how big changes are eventually made. She also knows what is possible — such as immigration reform and a significant increase in spending on the country’s infrastructure — because Congress has come tantalizingly close to deals on these issues, only to have them scuttled most recently by Trump, and by others before him.

It may be dissatisfying for voters to hear a candidate say they don’t favor Medicare for all, which certainly won’t pass a Republican-controlled Senate and may not even have enough votes if Democrats are in charge. But Klobuchar’s practical approach to lowering health care costs, which includes universal care through a public option and negotiated drug prices, is more realistic, and therefore, achievable.

Her focus on issues that are especially important to rural areas, such as broadband availability, supporting family farms and helping seniors age at home, are attuned to Maine’s interests.

Klobuchar has partnered with both of Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and Angus King, an independent who also caucuses with Democrats, on issues and legislation. Last year, for example, Collins and Klobuchar teamed up on legislation to increase access to apprenticeship programs and to provide additional training for local and state election officials, which is especially important at a time when our election security is at risk.

It is important for voters to know that ranked-choice voting, which could be an asset in a crowded race, won’t be used in the March 3 primary. If it were, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, would be a solid second choice. He brings a sharp intellect and youthful optimism, too often lacking in today’s politics, to the race. He is the only candidate with military service, giving him added perspective on America’s role in the world. His lack of experience in higher office is a concern, but certainly not a disqualification.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who rates high on electibility scale, also offers a more moderate perspective and years of experience, especially in the important foreign policy arena. He has broad demographic appeal, which is important in a general election. His repeated gaffes, unsatisfactory reaction to questions about his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine and propensity to snap back at people who challenge him, however, are growing tiresome.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a late entrant to the race who recently returned to the Democratic Party, has shown that a huge influx of cash can buy attention — and a rise in poll numbers. His willingness to take on difficult issues, such as gun control and climate change, are admirable, but being president also requires an ability to persuade and compromise.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren offers the most thoroughly developed plans and needed energy to the race. But many of those policies are too liberal to gain the needed support to become reality.

State Republican parties, including the Maine GOP, have done voters a disservice by canceling primaries or not offering a choice in that party’s primary. Donald Trump is such a divisive and dangerous president that party members deserve a choice of candidates for the White House.

Instead, the Republican Party in many states have cancelled primaries or kept candidates other than Trump off the primary ballot, turning the process into a coronation.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld will appear on some state GOP primary ballots, but not Maine’s. Republican voters here could write him in, although that vote won’t count. With the primary system set up for a Trump victory, Weld won’t best Trump but he is a responsible alternative for moderate Republicans who are fed up with the turmoil and divisiveness that characterizes the Trump administration.