Spoiling for a fight — or just spoiling? Three-way governor’s race puts focus on Maine

AUGUSTA — Maine voters in November will make history by either electing the nation’s first openly gay governor, electing its only independent governor or re-electing a Republican who is seen as one of the most vulnerable and volatile political leaders in the United States.

Kevin Bennett, Bangor Daily News

Gov. Paul LePage 

Troy R. Bennett, Bangor Daily News

Rep. Mike Michaud 

Troy R. Bennett, Bangor Daily News

Eliot Cutler 

Less than six months before Election Day, political observers see independent Eliot Cutler’s impact as being key to race —- even though few give him much chance of winning.

“We’re in great shape,” said Cutler, the Cape Elizabeth independent consistently polling 20 percentage points or more behind incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud. “We were at 3 percent in public polls at this time in 2010. … We didn’t get to 20 percent in 2010 until October.”

Most polls show support for Cutler this year to be around 15 percent.

Cutler is obviously counting on a repeat of his stunning late-stage rise in 2010 to a slim second-place loss to LePage by less than 2 percentage points. However, some experts say that what Cutler sees as good news could be just the opposite because he is much more familiar to Mainers than he was four years ago. That makes him a target for his Democratic and Republican opponents rather than an outsider sneaking up on them.

Jim Melcher, an associate political science professor at University of Maine at Farmington, said the fact that all three candidates are familiar to Maine voters gives more credence to the polls and, as opposed to 2010, neither LePage nor Michaud faces a primary challenger, meaning their campaigns against each other — and Cutler — began earlier.

“The fact is, voters know these three candidates,” said Melcher. “That might make it more difficult for Cutler to gain support this year.”

University of Maine political science Associate Professor Mark Brewer agreed.

“At this particular moment in time, it’s still a legitimate three-way race,” said Brewer. “That being said, I think you’re more comfortable if you’re Mike Michaud or Paul LePage than if you’re Eliot Cutler.”

The polls

Cutler had between 7 and 14 percent support from June through October of 2010, according to a variety of polls. LePage, meanwhile, was consistently ahead of Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell, who came to the campaign directly from her post as Maine Senate president, by up to 18 percentage points.

Cutler’s rise, which many political observers attributed to a late switch from Mitchell by “anybody-but-LePage” voters when it became apparent that she could not beat LePage, made all the polls wrong by as many as 10 percentage points into late October, when a Critical Insights poll gauged Cutler’s support at less than 27 percent. He ended up with 35.9 percent of the vote.

LePage led Mitchell through most of the 2010 polling season, but this year has been for the most part in a statistical dead heat with Michaud. New data released Thursday from a Public Policy Polling survey showed Michaud with a slim lead over LePage, 43-39 percent, with Cutler attracting 15 percent and 3 percent undecided.

LePage’s support across the polls and the 2010 election results have remained virtually unchanged, with percentages in the high 30s. That shows that the governor’s base is rock-solid but concentrated and unlikely to change much. If it doesn’t increase, LePage’s path to victory requires that Cutler, a former Democrat, pull support from Michaud.

Democrats say some of the numbers behind the poll results are positive for Michaud. For example, a Public Policy Polling survey in April had 40 percent of respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, 32 percent as Republicans and 28 percent as independents.

Those numbers compared to registered voter tallies from the Secretary of State that show 32 percent of Maine voters are registered as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans, 4 percent as Green Independents and 37 percent as unenrolled. When more poll respondents identify themselves as Democrats compared to actual numbers of registered Democrats, the Michaud campaign says it’s an indication that enthusiasm for Democrats in general is on the rise.

“There’s a huge enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, which means our base is really excited,” said Michaud campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt. “A lot of independents are also excited and there’s not nearly as much enthusiasm among Republicans. That’s a huge advantage for us.”

In the past, whichever party didn’t hold the White House usually fared well in off-year elections. Gallup poll data released Thursday found that three in 10 registered voters say that when they vote in November, it will be to send a message that they oppose President Barack Obama, which is equal to the amount who said that before the 2010 election when a wave of new Republicans were elected to state and national offices. About 24 percent of the same poll’s respondents said they will vote to support Obama, which also is similar to the 2010 data.

What they’ll say

LePage won in 2010 after being outspent by his top two opponents. His campaign expects a repeat this year — and is using that fact to portray the Republican as a sound fiscal manager.

Cutler and Michaud, as of the Maine Ethics Commission’s most recent campaign finance reporting deadline on April 22, had raised $1.3 million and $1.4 million, respectively. Cutler’s total included $400,000 that he has loaned to his campaign. LePage trailed them in money raised so far with a total of $842,000. As for cash on hand on April 22, Michaud had $813,000, LePage had $618,000 and Cutler had $110,000.

National-level politics could also influence the race. Republicans intent on increasing their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and overtaking the U.S. Senate are campaigning primarily against Obama on issues ranging from the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to the roll-out of the partisan and controversial Affordable Care Act. That could pull high numbers of Republicans to the polls especially in a nonpresidential election year when turnout is generally expected to be lower than it was in 2012. That might be particularly true in Maine, where the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the more-conservative north is up for grabs and attracting national attention.

According to voting records kept by the secretary of state’s office, about 580,000 votes were cast in Maine in 2010, when LePage was elected and voters flipped the balance of power in the state House and Senate to Republican control for the first time in decades. In 2008 and 2012, by comparison, more than 725,000 Mainers voted.

On the other hand, there are state-level factors that could energize Democrats, chief among which is a backlash against LePage, whose brash personality has been seen as damaging Maine’s image, even by some who support his policies. In addition to being troubled by LePage’s tough talk, Mainers with disdain for “Washington-style” partisan gridlock have vilified him for issuing more than 180 vetoes and for his steadfast opposition to expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Michaud is sure to focus on what Democrats have framed as LePage’s obstructionism and refusal to compromise or negotiate. From the day Michaud announced his candidacy, he has portrayed LePage’s behavior as an embarrassment to the state, a blustery presence that drives away progressive young entrepreneurs and innovators.

“There are a lot of people frustrated by the governor’s policies and his actions,” said Reinholt. “Even some Republicans want to change the leadership in Augusta.”

LePage and his supporters will use his denial of Medicaid expansion as evidence of the governor’s fiscal responsibility and will trumpet the 17,000 new private-sector jobs that have been created since he took office. LePage used his radio address this week on the latter theme, chastising Democrats who defeated his “ Open for Business Zones” bill, which would have offered hefty financial incentives to large businesses that locate at one of Maine’s two former Navy bases, because it also contained a “right to work” provision that they saw as an attempt to erode labor unions and workers’ rights.

“Job-killing liberals are blocking our progress,” said LePage in the radio address. “They want to grow welfare. We want to grow the economy. That’s why we will keep working to attract investment and business.”

LePage has used the term “liberals” to describe his opponents and “welfare” to describe a range of social services with increasing frequency. It harkens back to Republican President Ronald Reagan — whose portrait hangs in LePage’s State House office — who won campaigns by playing to emotions and using broad language rather than specific policy points.

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s campaign strategist, said Thursday that more voters will move toward LePage once they begin to understand some of his first-term accomplishments, including paying off debt to hospitals and reforming the state employee pension system.

“He ran for office saying he was a businessman and that he was not a decades-long politician,” said Littlefield. “His management style has been about doing more with less and as people focus on these facts, we’ll see more people coming to the governor.”

Cutler, meanwhile, says he stands outside the political gridlock on some of these issues and would serve in the Blaine House as negotiator in chief. Since last year, Cutler has rolled out several policy initiatives, including one last month that would lower property taxes while increasing and expanding the sales, meals and lodging taxes.

In November 2013 — a year before the general election and months after he announced his gubernatorial candidacy — Michaud publicly announced that he is gay. The campaign has downplayed his sexual orientation during appearances in Maine, but he has appeared at a number of out-of-state fundraisers hosted by gay-rights groups. His orientation could win over voters in more-liberal southern Maine, which strongly supported a successful same-sex marriage initiative in 2012. A victory in November would make him the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

However, Reinholt said Michaud’s appeal and campaign theme will be about his career of public service during which he’s proved to voters that they can trust him at his word.

“Every candidate in this race is established,” she said. “Voters know how they feel about them. This campaign is going to be won by a strong field program and our focus is getting Mike to talk to as many voters as possible between now and Election Day.”

Reinholt said LePage has been “banking on a three-way race,” without which he would have little chance.

“If this were a head-to-head campaign, I think everyone can agree this would be a much different situation,” she said.

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My only comment is this.

My only comment is this. What does sexual orientation have to do with the gubernatorial race?

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture


Some would ask if LePage is really a man.....but more like an ALEC weasel....

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

One factor is clear, the other is another failure of the dodger

LePage lost by 62% ....the 38% know a helluva lot more about LePages antics of stupidity and duct tape escapades to make him a lesser person than he already is.

If Carter and Nixon had not fully pardoned draft dodgers, LePage would still be in Canada....

TOM WHITE's picture

LePage is doing what needs to

LePage is doing what needs to be done. Rough on the edge but sharp with the pencil.

rob washburn's picture

Oh really. He's done one good

Oh really. He's done one good thing in 4 years...tried to fix the Turnpike Authority. Otherwise, he's been awful at everything...tax cuts for the wealthy so that millionaires pays the same income tax rate as someone making only $20,000, workers comp law that shifts the responsibility to taxpayers instead of employers and their insurance companies, tried to cut back on voter rights (which we overturned by referendum in short order), refused to insure 70,000 Mainers even though the Feds would 100% of the cost now and 90% later, failed to live up to his promise to fund our schools according to Maine law, has shifted the tax burden from the State to local taxpayers, cut back on Municipal revenue sharing, made us look like fools with his big mouth, pushed for bad mining laws, screwed retired State workers by failing to live up to the state's promises to retired workers, never apologizes or takes responsibility for all his administration screwups, like rides program, failing to meet fed dam deadlines, corrupt destruction of documents related to contracts awarded per the Maine Healthy Partnerships Program, didn't get signed performance bond as required by the rides program contract, caused Norwegian wind power firm to abandon off shore windpower program, gave unnecessary estate tax cut that only benefitted 400 millionaires, labor dept mural fiasco, tried to influence unemployment hearings officers's decisions, refused to follow will of the people on bonds we passed, refused to propose a budget,, increased sales tax to 5.5¢ and on and on.THINK ABOUT THIS STUFF BEFORE VOTING AGAIN FOR MAINE'S WORST GOVERNOR EVER PAUL LEPAGE.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

His only observation is

LePage is rough with irritating splinters and that he is more concerned about the lead in LePage's pencil.....

FRANK EARLEY's picture

He ran for office saying he was a businessman.............

O.K., show of hands here. How many employees of Mardens when LePage ran the show, would recommend this man to see over just about every aspect of your daily lives? Lets widen the poll here, how many people who have ever held a job, would recommend a man who's biggest claim to fame is running a discount fire damaged, and factory seconds, retail business. This man has spent the past three and a half years doing what? He made a lump sum payment to the hospitals, taking a vast amount of that money away from the people. It should have been a substantial down payment, followed by a responsible payment plan. Then the money could still be used while paying off the debt. It didn't all occur in one day, paying it back that way, in my opinion was a fiscal mistake.
Calling LePage's persona tough, is not accurate. There is a big difference to being tough as apposed to being a bully. A true tough guy or gal will make accurate statements, they don't need to threaten the individual. What LePage does is pure bullying, he uses his position to intimidate people. He knows no one can touch him so he goes off on these tiraids and basically makes a fool out of himself. That's not being tough.
Finally, what kind of business professional sneaks a million dollar deal out the back door hoping no one will notice. Sounds to me like he had his higher education in Connecticut politics. They do those sorts of things down there.
If LePage is running this State as a business, I wouldn't put much stock in it. A business run by these types usually don't make it, and thats exactly what he's doing to this State.............................

AL PELLETIER's picture

I like your first question, Frank

My wife was an office manager at Marden's when LePage ran for Gov. She actually voted for him figuring that was the only way they could get rid of him. She'd never vote for him again, in fact, last year she told Mary LePage just what she thought of him and it wasn't pretty!


Sooooooo. Vote for Lepage so

Sooooooo. Vote for Lepage so he'll leave Marden's and slide into the Blaine House. Thank you.

AL PELLETIER's picture

I know,Carolyn

What the hell was she thinking? But I'm smart enough to know better then to question my wife's logic.

It is very telling that the

It is very telling that the GOP is counting on Cutler to stay in the race in order to win, because they know that Michaud would easily spank him in a two way race. It is an acknowledgement that theirs is not the majority view in this state, so they will take any trick to make sure the minority rules the majority. Pretty odd for a party that touts democratic values and the "will of the people." I guess the only people whose will matters is theirs.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

The realistic fact not in favor of LePage

is his touting of the 17,000 new private-sector jobs that have been created since he took office. Whereas 17K is nothing in almost 4 years on top the fact that the entire nations private sectors jobs increased on a parity from the recovery from the Nations 50 plus straight months of unemployment and jobs progressing since 2010.

Typical LePage taking credit that was not his to tout....

rob washburn's picture

I'll bet money that

I'll bet money that despicable GOP corporate supporters from afar are spending money to help Cutler right now and will continue to in order to increase Cutler's numbers, figuring if Cutler can take away Michaud votes, the scumbag wins again..


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