LEWISTON — Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate for governor, is challenging his political rivals to join him for 16 debates, one in each of Maine’s counties in the coming weeks.

Cutler sent a letter to the campaigns of Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on Thursday.

In his letter, Cutler said there have been invitations from various advocacy groups around Maine, so he thought the opportunity to start the conversation and debates over who should be Maine’s governor was ripe.

“Neither of you has a primary opponent, so the fact that the primary elections will take place in June is of no consequence whatsoever,” Cutler wrote. “There are only three of us in this race, and in light of how important this election is for Maine’s future, Maine people deserve a full airing of our ideas over the course of this campaign.”

Earlier this week, Cutler said he would like to debate Michaud and LePage, but both campaigns have been reluctant to join in a debate before candidates are officially on a ballot.

Asked about the possibility of an early debate in December, Brent Littlefield, a political consultant and spokesman for LePage’s campaign, wrote in an email to the Sun Journal, “To date, there are no legal candidates for governor. Following ballot approval, the campaign will evaluate requests with an election calendar yearlong view.”

On Friday, Littlefield said Cutler “will do anything he can to get his name in the press. This is yet another attempt. Gov. LePage is busy creating jobs and managing the state; there will be plenty of time to debate later in the year.”

Candidates are not officially placed on the state ballot until March. Party candidates are not official until after June primaries, but so far no primary challengers have emerged for LePage or Michaud.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud’s campaign, has said Michaud would prefer any debates occur after he is officially the party’s designate, but if Cutler and LePage both agreed to a debate, Michaud would make every effort to attend.

Reinholt said Friday that the Michaud campaign had already begun accepting invitations to debates before the general election in November.

“This letter seems like an effort from Cutler to distract from the fact that his support is stagnant and he’s having trouble raising money,” Reinholt wrote in an email to the Sun Journal.

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