AUGUSTA — Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler turned in more than 5,500 voter signatures Thursday, ensuring his name will be on Maine’s 2014 election ballot.

Cutler, of Cape Elizabeth, also renewed his challenge to the other two candidates in the race — Republican Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine — to join him in debates in each of the state’s 16 counties.

So far, a televised debate has been scheduled for Oct. 20, according to campaign officials.

Cutler said he was pleased with his campaign’s effort to gather more than the 4,000 voter signatures needed under Maine election law to place an independent candidate on the ballot. He also noted the disadvantages independent candidates have under the law because it requires them to collect twice as many voter signatures as Democratic or Republican candidates. 

The state’s campaign-finance law also limits the amount of individual donations an independent candidate can collect, capping donations at $1,500 per individual. Party candidates are allowed to collect $1,500 for their primary race and $1,500 for the general election, even in years like this in which there are no primary challengers in the governor’s race.

“Maine voters are the people who are going to decide this race, not pollsters and not the candidates,” Cutler said. “Maine voters ought to have an opportunity in this incredibly important election to hear what these three candidates have to say.”

Asked if he had reached out recently to request debates, Cutler said he had done so in many public settings, and if Michaud and LePage did not know he was calling for a statewide series of debates, they were simply covering their ears.

He said LePage and Michaud were either “incapable” or simply “unwilling.”

“If they are not willing to debate, not willing to put the issues in front of Maine voters and not willing to let Maine voters see us head-to-head, then I don’t think they have any business being governor,” Cutler said.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud, said Cutler was distorting the debate issue and noted Michaud’s campaign had agreed to two debates and was working to schedule others but was mainly awaiting final word from various debate organizers.

“Congressman Michaud has repeatedly made it clear that he’s looking forward to debating Gov. LePage and any other candidates who are in the race this fall when Congress is out of session,” Reinholt said. “Eliot Cutler is well-aware of that fact, so this latest stunt suggests that even his campaign, which is almost out of money and falling further behind in the polls, doesn’t expect to have the resources or momentum to continue operating all the way through November.”

Reinholt said Cutler was starting to remind her of LePage.

“The last thing Maine needs is another governor like LePage, who makes false claims and accusations just to score political points,” Reinholt said.

Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for LePage’s campaign, said the governor was looking forward to the fall debates and would be highlighting his accomplishments in office.

“Gov. LePage looks forward to talking with Maine voters about the over 15,000 new private-sector jobs created since he took office, needed welfare reforms and his work cleaning up a hospital debt left by the Michaud-Baldacci Democrats,” Littlefield said.

He said the campaign would be considering in June all of the debate requests it had received and would be setting a fall schedule. He acknowledged that the campaign had “inked in” one date in October for a television debate.

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