PORTLAND — A group of prominent Maine women, both Democrats and Republicans, said Wednesday they support Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate in Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial race.

Among those offering their support is a former U.S. district attorney, current and former members of the Legislature, successful businesswomen and philanthropists.

Cutler, in a three-way race with incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District representative, has amped up his campaign’s focus on women and women’s issues in recent weeks. Women account for about 53 percent of Maine voters and could be a key bloc in the race for the Blaine House.

Speaker after speaker on Wednesday suggested she would vote her personal values over party ideologies in the coming election, with a campaign theme of “Vote Our Values.”

Eleanor Kinney, an investor in various Maine agricultural interests, said she was a lifelong Democrat but felt compelled to support Cutler over Michaud or LePage.

“This election has to be about what is best for Maine people and not about the survival of any party,” Kinney said during a news conference in a meeting room at the Portland Public Library. 

Cutler’s record and long-term views on the environment, abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, among other issues, were touted.

“During my career as a public prosecutor, I handled many cases in which a defendant who was prohibited by law from having a gun obtained one through a private sale where no background check is required,” said Paula Silsby, former U.S. district attorney for Maine. Silsby said she was backing Cutler because he had been unequivocal in his support of closing gun-sale loopholes on background checks.

Sherry Huber, a Falmouth Republican and former state lawmaker who once ran for governor, said she was backing Cutler because of his views on environmental protection and his promise to make protecting Maine’s natural resources a top priority as governor.

“Clean air and water are vital to life on Earth, and here in Maine we understand that,” Huber said. 

Huber, and other speakers, referred to Michaud’s voting record during his time in the Maine Legislature and his tenure in Washington.

“There is no question or evolving position where Eliot stands,” Huber said.

Kim Volk, a businesswoman who noted she is a lesbian, said she supported Cutler because he had always backed Maine’s lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

She said Michaud, who announced he was gay late last year, voted against anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians during his years in the Legislature.

“Mike Michaud and his supporters claim that he has evolved on LGBT equality,” Volk said. “But it took him until after Maine voters approved full equality to finally come around to saying he does.”

Volk said Cutler was a leader on equal rights issues, not a follower.

“Eliot’s moral compass has never needed recalibration on issues of fairness and equality,” Volk said. “Paul LePage’s moral compass points him in the wrong direction, and Mike Michaud’s seems to be broken, pointing him whichever way the wind is blowing.”

State Rep. Terry Hayes, D- Buckfield, said Cutler would work as a collaborator with the Legislature and not against it or put party politics before good policy.

“In this election for governor we need the most qualified, intelligent collaborator, the person with a proven track record for working with diverse factions to get results,” Hayes said. “Unlike our political parties, Eliot’s vision for Maine goes well beyond the next election.”

Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for LePage’s campaign, said LePage had made it a policy point to hire “accomplished and professional women” to his Cabinet and staff and that he regularly seeks their “wisdom.”

Littlefield said LePage’s work to reduce and eliminate domestic violence in Maine is a strong testimony to the governor’s support of women.

During LePage’s re-election announcement last November, Littlefield said, two of the three guests selected to introduce LePage were women, including one who was a former Democrat and Michaud supporter and another who was a domestic violence survivor whom LePage had personally helped.

Littlefield said LePage’s actions show he’s been a governor who supports and advocates for women and families.

LePage on Wednesday was returning to Maine from an annual Republican Governors Association meeting in New York City.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud’s campaign, said Cutler was trying to create fear among female voters and develop wedge issues that could keep his campaign relevant. Cutler has consistently trailed in recent polls, she said. 

Reinholt disputed some of the claims made against Michaud, noting he was publicly supportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians since at least 2002.  

Michaud was first elected to Congress in 2002 as a “pro-life” candidate running against a “pro-choice” Republican.

However, Reinholt said, Michaud’s position on women’s reproductive rights is clearly “pro choice” and Michaud is the only candidate to be endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion rights organization.

She detailed at least 30 pro-choice votes Michaud has taken in Congress since 2004.

Reinholt also said Michaud was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club of Maine, which is a testament to his voting record on protecting the environment. Michaud frequently notes that he got involved in politics because he wanted to do something to clean up the then-polluted Penobscot River.

Cutler’s campaign was engaging in a “distortion of the facts,” which is something Cutler vowed he wouldn’t do as a candidate, Reinholt said.

She said that Cutler, having never served in elected office, has never had to cast the “hard votes that Mike has had to make.” Cutler’s campaign and supporters were “cherry picking” Michaud’s voting record, which spans more than three decades, while overlooking his most recent votes in Congress, she said.

Michaud’s position has evolved, “but it was a natural evolution over time and not something that happened overnight,” Reinholt said, refuting claims that Michaud’s changing views on some issues were politically expedient.

Michaud was in Washington working in Congress on Wednesday and issued a short statement.

“For three and a half years, Gov. LePage has launched baseless attacks as he’s failed to lead the state of Maine and now we are seeing more of the same from Eliot Cutler,” Michaud wrote, “as he and his campaign repeatedly distort my stance on important issues facing Maine women, Maine families and Maine voters. It’s disappointing and Mainers deserve better.”

Michaud wrote, “There is a reason why organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, EqualityMaine and the Human Rights Campaign have endorsed me in my campaign for governor. It’s because they trust me on these important issues, and because they know, in me, they will always have a partner they can work with. Mainers deserve a leader in Augusta who will move beyond the attacks and bring people together. That’s what I plan to do as governor.”

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