Bernie Sanders Draws Biggest Turnout for Maine Democratic Rally in 25 Years
Maine is a small state—1.3 million. Its largest city is Portland, with a population of 66,000.
Maine is one of the few states where presidential national delegates are chosen at local caucuses. The Maine Democratic Presidential Caucuses will be held on March 6, 2016—8 months from now. And the General Election is still 16 months away.
The Sanders campaign originally booked Portland's Ocean Gateway, a venue that holds about 800 people standing. Soon, thousands of RSVPs were pouring in and the event was moved to the much larger Cross Insurance Arena.
The Cross Arena (formerly Cumberland County Civic Center) is Maine's largest concert venue, seating up to 9,500. (In 1977, Elvis Presley was due to kick-off his new concert tour here but was found dead at his Graceland Mansion the day before).
An hour before the rally's scheduled 7 p.m. start time, long lines snaked through downtown Portland with thousands waiting to get in. (The Common Dreams offices are just a block away).
Bernie packed the house. The Bangor Daily News reported:
The 2016 election may be 16 months away, but you wouldn’t know it from the thousands of people who turned out Monday evening to cheer on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
What was scheduled as a town hall forum had become a full-blown rally by Monday night. Sanders’ speech was delayed by 20 minutes as organizers let in the throngs of people still awaiting entry. Estimates pegged the crowd at 8,000 to 9,000 people.
(At 7:15 p.m., several of our staff writers were turned away at the doors to the then-full arena; a couple hundred seats behind a curtain were blocked off keeping the turnout number below the 9,500 figure).
Maine political circles are still buzzing about the gathering—not just the size of the audience, but the crowd's youthful energy and intensity.
It was epic. And, as Bernie Sanders says, "This campaign is catching fire for a simple reason, and the simple reason is we are telling the truth."
No one we spoke with could remember a recent Maine Democratic rally that could compare. We decided to do some research and found that all the large rallies over the past 25 years were either for sitting U.S. Presidents or just before General Elections/Presidential Caucuses. Here's what we found:
The biggest Democratic rally in Maine's history appears to be the 1960 Election Eve visit to Lewiston by candidate John F. Kennedy on Nov. 6/7, 1960. The Lewiston Evening Journal reported that 14,000 came out for the scheduled 9 p.m. speech and that 8,000 remained when Kennedy arrived at the rally just before midnight.
The largest Democratic political rallies held in Maine over the past 25 years:
Bill Clinton: 7,000 (or 10,000) on Oct. 7, 1996 - Hadlock Field, Portland, Maine
Sitting President Bill Clinton came to campaign for re-election in Maine one month before the 1996 General Election in which he ultimately defeated challenger Sen. Bob Dole. The Bangor Daily News reported: "Fresh off a successful debate with Republican Bob Dole, President Bill Clinton swept into Maine on Monday night to lead a spirited pep rally for Maine Democrats. 'Hello, Maine!' Clinton called out in greeting an estimated 7,000 supporters at Portland's Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team." The Portland Press Herald reported a different turnout at the same event: "Clinton, sporting a Portland Sea Dogs jacket and baseball cap... said he was happily surprised by the crowd of more than 10,000 people who turned out. 'I never dreamed that this place would be so full'." Hadlock Field had a seating capacity of 6,500 in 1996.
Barack Obam: 6,700 (5,700 + 1,000) on Feb., 9, 2008 - Bangor Auditorium, Bangor, Maine
The day before the 2008 Maine Democratic Presidential Caucuses, both leading candidates—Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton—came to rally supporters in Maine. The Bangor Daily News reported: "The Illinois senator conducted his 4 pm 'Stand for Change' rally from a small stage at the center of a crowd of 5,700 people. Outside in the cold, more than 1,000 people were turned away, according to Mike Dyer, director of the Bangor Auditorium."
Bill Clinton: 4,000 on Nov. 4, 1996 - Bangor International Airport, Bangor, Maine
The day before the 1996 General Election, Bill Clinton campaigned for re-election in Bangor. The Bangor Daily News reported: "President Clinton brought his whirlwind campaign to Bangor International Airport at 12:15 this morning, one day before Election Day. Clinton is so far ahead in his own race nationally and in Maine that his campaign advisers decided the president could afford to go shopping for a few more U.S. senators. Looking fresh after a marathon day of campaigning on the eastern seaboard, Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd of supporters estimated at 4,000 gathered in a hangar: 'This is the first rally of the last day of the last campaign I’ll ever run, and I’m glad to start it here with you'."
Bill Clinton: 4,000 on June 19, 1993 - Deering Oaks Park, Portland, Maine
Sitting President Bill Clinton came to Portland just six months into his first term. The Bangor Daily News reported: "Though the day was muggy and threatened rain, some 4,000 people packed Deering Oaks Park — a few wishing him ill, more holding signs that criticized his policies, but most apparently just wanting to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the free world."
Barack Obama: 3,000 Oct. 30, 2014 - Portland Expo Building, Portland, Maine
Just 5 days before Maine's 2014 Gubernatorial election, sitting President Barack Obama came back to the Portland Expo Building stumping for gubernatorial candidate Congressman Mike Michaud. The Portland Press Herald reported: "President Obama stirred a crowd of about 3,000 people into a frenzy on Thursday evening during a campaign rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud in Portland... The Michaud campaign said more than 7,000 people had requested tickets to the event."
Al Gore: 3,000 on Oct. 30, 1992 - Downtown Rally, Bangor, Maine
Four days before the 1992 General Election, Vice-Presidential candidate Al Gore campaigned in Bangor for the Clinton/Gore ticket. The Bangor Daily News reported: "At a downtown rally attended by an estimated 3,000 Democratic supporters, flanked by pockets of Perot and Bush backers, Gore taunted the president for calling him 'Mr. Ozone,' and denigrating the Democratic ticket as a couple of 'bozos.' Bush made those comments while campaigning in Michigan on Thursday."
Barack Obama: 2,500 April 1, 2010 - Portland Expo Building, Portland, Maine
One week after sitting President Barack Obama signed his Affordable Care Act into law, he came to Portland for a victory rally. The Bangor Daily News reported: "'When the pundits were obsessing over who was up and who was down, you never lost sight of what was right and what was wrong,' Obama told an audience of about 2,500 jubilant supporters at the Portland Expo. 'You knew this wasn’t about the fortunes of any one party — this was about the future of our country'."
John Edwards: 2,500 Sept. 25, 2004 - Lewiston Armory, Lewiston, Maine
John Kerry's running mate Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards campaigned in Maine six weeks before the 2004 General Election. The Portland Press Herald reported: "Edwards accused President Bush of creating a 'mess' in Iraq while failing to address a variety of international threats, during a rally Sunday in what has become a tight race for Maine's electoral votes. The North Carolina senator told 2,500 supporters at the Lewiston Memorial Armory that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and he are the right choice on the issue of national security."
Hillary Clinton: 2,200 (2,000 + 200) Feb. 9, 2008 - University of Maine, Orono, Maine
The day before the 2008 Maine Democratic Presidential Caucuses both leading candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton came to rally supporters in Maine. The Bangor Daily News reported that at the Clinton rally “more than 2,000 people showed up to hear the presidential hopeful speak at UM’s Student Recreation and Fitness Center. About 200 had to be turned away.”
Barack Obama: 2,000 Sept. 25, 2007 - Portland Expo Building, Portland, Maine
Then-Senator Barack Obama made his first visit to Maine as a candidate five months before Maine's 2008 Presidential Caucuses. The Associated Press reported: "In his first campaign visit to Maine, Obama spoke to about 2,000 people at the Portland Expo about the need for change in government health care, economics and foreign policies. But he said it's also time for a basic change in the political system so Americans can rally behind a common purpose."
Craig Brown has been the director and co-founder of Portland, Maine based Common Dreams since 1997. Previously, he was chief of staff to the progressive former Maine Congressman Tom Andrews.
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The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
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Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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