UPDATE: King switches support to Michaud
PORTLAND — Less than a week before Election Day, independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler told his supporters Wednesday morning that if they don’t think he can win the race for governor, they should vote their conscience.
Cutler, who has trailed in the polls for months to Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, said his message for voters was that he wouldn’t quit, but they should do what they feel is right.
“People who feel compelled by their fears or by their conscience to vote for someone other than me, and who have supported me to date, should do so,” Cutler said. “And people who feel compelled by their conscience, probably not by their fears, to vote for me should do so, and I’m not backing down.”
Cutler declined to say who he would vote for were he not in the race himself.
“The reason I’m still in it is I don’t want to leave myself that choice and I don’t want to leave that choice to the voters of Maine,” Cutler said.
He acknowledged he was running a distant third, according to all of the public polls that have been released to date, but, he said, Maine is a notoriously difficult place in which to get an accurate poll.
“Do I think the polls are going to determine this election?” Cutler ask. “No, I think that voters are and I want voters to have the choices that I’m going to have.”
Some Cutler supporters said the time had come for people to switch their support to Michaud.
“Unfortunately, that day has come,” Layne Gregory of Falmouth said. “It’s time for us to unite for Maine so we can defeat Paul LePage.”
Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud’s campaign, said Cutler’s statements were “encouraging.”
“We all need to come together and ensure that we bring change to the Blaine House on Election Day,” Reinholt said. “It sounds like Eliot realizes that this is a two-person race, and we know that’s hard. Maine can’t afford four more years of Gov. LePage.”
But Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, took Cutler’s statements Wednesday more as a sign of defiance and castigated Democrats for trying to push Cutler aside.
“Democrats have launched a cruel campaign against Mr. Cutler, who pushed back against the bullying today and made clear that he is standing firm,” Bennett said in a prepared statement. “The Michaud campaign has arrogantly assumed that independents and Cutler supporters owe the Democratic establishment their allegiance.”
Bennett also took the opportunity to pitch LePage.
“We respectfully request that everybody — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — look at the issues and vote for Gov. LePage because he has demonstrated strong leadership in growing Maine’s economy, paying down debt and reforming welfare,” Bennett said.
On Tuesday, poll results released by Pan Atlantic SMS indicated that Cutler’s supporters were beginning to leave him for Michaud.
Michaud’s supporters have increased their calls for Cutler to drop out of the race. Republicans have begun airing ads supportive of Cutler, which Democrats have described as a cynical ploy to divide LePage’s opposition.
Cutler is a lawyer who served as an adviser on energy policy to President Jimmy Carter. He lost to LePage by 2 percentage points in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
And while Cutler’s announcement Wednesday sounded at first like a concession speech, “Campaigning for public office in this great state is a privilege and I am deeply grateful to the people of Maine for twice allowing me this opportunity,” Cutler said. “I got into this race because I believed that Mainers deserved a choice beyond what is not working now and what didn’t work before.”
He later derided a political system in Maine and the U.S. that is dominated by two parties.
“I’ve always told voters I won’t sugarcoat anything and I’m not going to start now,” Cutler said. “We have a steep hill to climb in the next few days. I am a realist about my chances, but I’ll be damned if I kowtow to party politics and allow a bunch of polls to drown out the voices of thousands of Maine people who believe that standing for principle, ideals and ideas makes you an American and not a spoiler.”
Later, in a sign that the campaign was not in retreat, Cutler took to the streets in downtown Lewiston, going door to door at businesses and shops on Lisbon Street.
Cutler later appeared at Bates College in Lewiston, where he met with a group of students.
Information from the Bangor Daily News and The Associated Press was used in this report.