GOP strategist who sees Cutler pathway to victory also touted Michaud in 2013

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PORTLAND — The fight for cross-party support in Maine’s governor’s race is heating up with all three candidates in the race breaking out with supporters who appear to belie party loyalties.

A Republican consultant who once worked for former President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he believes independent Eliot Cutler still has a pathway to the governor’s office, offering his support.

Mark McKinnon said despite the independent candidate’s lackluster performance in the recent polls, Maine’s voting history of selecting independent candidates, combined with stagnant numbers for his opponents, gives Cutler a shot for the Blaine House. McKinnon spoke in favor of Cutler at an event last Friday at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant and Lounge in Portland.

Cutler is running against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate.

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McKinnon, who has hosted a luncheon and reception fundraising events for Cutler, recently said by phone he believes Cutler can still win the election over LePage and Michaud.

But Michaud’s campaign recently announced support of a former Maine National Guard officer who says he’s a lifelong Republican. While a new television advertisement for LePage features Cyndi Robbins, the owner of the Poland Spring Inn and Resort, who said despite being a former Michaud supporter and lifelong Democrat, she supports LePage.

LePage and Michaud are also enjoying high-profile support from party icons as well, including upcoming visits for Michaud from President Barack Obama and former first lady and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Likewise, LePage has enjoyed the support of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who — as chairman of the Republican Governors Association — has visited the state three times.

McKinnon’s top push for Cutler during his visit was to dispel a Democratic narrative that independent voters who pick Cutler would largely be voting for LePage in a race that has the incumbent and Michaud in a dead heat, based on most of the current public polling.

McKinnon and Cutler were among the founders of a political action group, No Labels, that urges an end to partisan gridlock.

“When I see the supposed front-runners at or under 40 percent of the vote, I get very interested,” McKinnon said of Cutler’s chances.

He said the idea that a majority of Maine voters were simply interested in voting LePage out was not necessarily backed up by the polling numbers, which suggests Cutler gains a higher percent of support from Republican voters than he does from Democratic ones.

“If all the people who like Eliot, or who think he would be the best governor, voted for him, it would be a landslide,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon also said the upcoming appearance of high-profile Democrats like the president and Clinton was a sign of “desperation,” noting Obama’s low approval ratings in Maine.

President Obama will stump for Michaud on Oct. 30 in Portland, while Clinton will visit Scarborough on Oct. 24 to offer her support.

McKinnon said the most likely motive for the big names is to ensure the most loyal Democratic voters turn out and vote for Michaud. He said bringing the president to Maine was the last thing the Democrats would do if their hope was to broaden their base of support.

Michaud’s campaign, however was also quick to note last week their candidate has been previously endorsed and recognized by No Labels for his bipartisan efforts in Washington. A news release issued by No Labels in 2013 even featured McKinnon.

“In the U.S. Congress, Mike Michaud has been working to usher in a new politics of problem solving,” McKinnon said in a prepared statement at the time. “And we’re excited to see him take that attitude back to Maine in his race for governor.”

Meanwhile, LePage’s campaign was attacking a Michaud campaign advertisement that touts the support of a “lifelong” Republican suggesting that supporter is a “disgruntled” former Maine National Guard officer, who was passed over by LePage for promotion.

In a release issued Monday, LePage’s campaign spokesman Alex Willette said retired Brig. Gen. Don McCormack, a graduate of Lewiston High School, may be a “registered Republican” but he has also consistently given campaign donations to Democrats, including Michaud and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen when Allen ran against Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

But McCormack also donated the maximum amount allowed under Maine law to LePage in the 2010 election cycle.

McCormack was a medevac helicopter pilot, and was once appointed by LePage to be the director of the state’s Bureau of General Services, which oversees state contracts, purchasing and the state’s vehicle fleet, among other duties.

Willette criticized a political action committee that’s supporting Michaud’s campaign for using an employed worker to suggest Maine’s economy wasn’t doing so well and the governor’s recent claims he’s created nearly 20,000 private-sector jobs is misleading.

“It is clear that Michael Michaud is exploiting a disgruntled former state employee just like he and his political bosses exploited a man who is employed to create a false sense of insecurity around unemployment,” Willette said in a prepared statement.

David Farmer, a spokesman for Michaud, said, “It’s shameful LePage’s campaign would attempt to smear the record of a decorated Maine veteran to score political points.”

“This is what they do, it’s personal destruction for anybody who dares to stand up,” Farmer said. He noted that McCormack was an “honorable man” and that he had also donated to Republicans as recently as this year.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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