PORTLAND – Doug Wall attended his first-ever Democratic nominating caucus on Feb 8. Politics has never been his thing, he says. He had grown up believing that his government does the right thing, but now he is shocked. His country has become a bully. This election, he believes, is the most important one in his lifetime. Kucinich was Wall’s first choice, but at the South Paris caucus he ended up supporting Kerry as the best bet to beat Bush.

Democratic voters came out in unprecedented numbers at 402 caucuses, 2,000 jamming themselves into a high school gymnasium in Portland and 35 gathering in South Paris, up from the usual four or five. A Dean campaign worker reported that the energy of the Portland crowd peaked at the highest level that he had ever experienced in Maine. He also said Kucinich gave an electrifying speech. Around 10 percent of the statewide Party electorate voted, about 15,000 in all.

John Kerry won in Maine vote with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Howard Dean at 26 percent, and Dennis Kucinich at 15 percent. John Edwards took nine percent, Wesley Clark, four per cent. The three top contenders had mounted extensive campaigns in the state, with notable grassroots efforts on the part of the Dean and Kucinich teams.

Kucinich had toured Maine five times prior to Feb. 8, and both he and Dean traveled the state on caucus day, speaking at large gatherings in major cities. Progressive Democratic candidates have actually been doing well in Maine for some time. Jesse Jackson sent a strong Maine delegation to the 1988 National Convention, and Jerry Brown was Maine’s choice in 1992.

Katey Branch, who led the Kucinich forces in South Paris, had never been an activist. She spoke of “reclaiming democracy” from a Bush government she sees as “radical and drastic.” She wants to regain the “option of an economy based on peace, instead of war.” She and Pat Fogg, her counterpart in the town of Poland, Maine, will work for the party nominee, but what they really want is a movement to transform the Democratic Party.

Perhaps one measure of the seriousness with which Democratic activists take this year’s elections is that many plan to work for the eventual Democratic nominee rather than drop out after their own candidate loses. Another is that, from the beginning of the nominating process, many have been working for candidates they think have the stuff to beat Bush, rather than one who might be their ideological soul-mate.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.