The independent candidacy of Eliot Cutler is the only thing keeping Maine Gov. Paul LePage's hopes for a second term alive, according to a new Democratic poll conducted for a national labor group. But even in a three-way race similar to the contest he won in 2010, LePage faces a tough road to reelection.
The survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and paid for by the National Education Association. It tested the Republican governor in a one-on-one matchup with Democratic Rep. Michael Michaud, as well as in a three-way contest with Michaud and Cutler. Michaud announced last month that he's exploring a gubernatorial bid, while Cutler is embarking on his second gubernatorial run after finishing a close second to LePage in 2010.
In the three-way contest, Michaud outpaces the governor by nine points, 40 percent to 31 percent, while Cutler finishes third with 26 percent. In 2010, LePage won with 38 percent, while Cutler finished with 36 percent and Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell garnered just 19 percent.
The poll suggests that LePage would get pummeled in a two-way race, as he trails Michaud, 61 percent to 34 percent. Democrats are likely to urge Cutler to back away from the contest, arguing that his independent bid will split the anti-LePage vote and give the governor his only feasible path to reelection. But Cutler can point to his close finish in 2010, as well as Sen. Angus King's successful Senate run last year, as evidence that independent candidates can compete statewide in Maine.
LePage is coming off a rocky few months highlighted by several high-profile spats with state legislative leaders. With the threat of a government shutdown looming, the legislature voted in late June to override the governor's veto of the state budget. During the budget negotiations, LePage made what the Portland Press Herald described as a "crude sexual reference" while criticizing assistant state Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, whom the governor said has a "black heart." LePage even took fire from his own party: Assistant state Senate GOP leader Roger Katz wrote in a Press Herald op-ed that he was "embarrassed" by the governor's behavior.
The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll was conducted July 11-16. It surveyed 400 likely 2014 voters and carries a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.9 percentage points.