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May 18, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

At the “Eggs & Is­sues for­um” in Port­land, all 5 GOV can­did­ates were “peppered” with “with quite a vari­ety of” ques­tions.

On wheth­er “med­ic­al marijuana” will “hurt” ME, “all five said no.”

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

On “Should the gov­ernor have line-item veto power?” Atty/ex-OMB As­soc. Dir. for Nat­ur­al Re­sources, En­ergy and Sci­ence/Jimmy Carter ex-aide Eli­ot Cut­ler (I): “Ab­so­lutely yes.”

Wa­terville May­or Paul LePage (R): “A good gov­ernor doesn’t need it, but a weak gov­ernor may have to have it.”

‘84 SEN nom­in­ee/‘90 ME-01 can­did­ate/state Sen­ate Pres./ex-state House Speak­er Libby Mitchell (D): “No. I don’t need it.”

On the ques­tion “Would you raise the sales tax to bal­ance the budget?”

Cut­ler: “The first thing we have to do is get the spend­ing un­der con­trol. We have to squeeze the liv­ing beje­sus out of (the budget).”

LePage: “Pri­or­it­ize, then look at it.”

Mitchell: “No for now, and I want to know what beje­sus means” (Cov­ers, Cent­ral Maine Morn­ing Sen­tinel, 10/11).

Tun­nel Vis­ion

LePage “out­lined his vis­ion for the state” in a 10/8 “speech be­fore about 60 people at an event hos­ted by the Brun­swick Rotary Club, Coastal Rotary Club of Brun­swick and the Top­sham Es­presso Rotary.”

LePage: “This cam­paign is really go­ing to be about people ahead of polit­ics. And my whole ca­reer in Wa­terville and throughout my work­ing life had been pretty much about people.”

More LePage: “The next gov­ernor is fa­cing a bad eco­nomy in Maine, not only brought on by the re­ces­sion, but by 35 years of one-party con­trol. We need to un­leash the job cre­at­ors” (Met­z­ler, Port­land Press Her­ald, 10/9).

All Grown Up

Bangor Daily News pro­files each of the can­did­ates job growth plans.

For Cut­ler “the first steps to­ward true, long-term eco­nom­ic growth be­gin by lower­ing the costs of health care, en­ergy and gov­ern­ment com­bined with chan­ging the reg­u­lat­ory en­vir­on­ment in state gov­ern­ment.” Cut­ler “wants to cre­ate an En­ergy Fin­ance Au­thor­ity that will take ad­vant­age of its status as a pub­lic en­tity to se­cure low-in­terest, tax-ex­empt fin­an­cing for en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects or to help private busi­nesses re­duce their en­ergy costs.”

“At the heart of” LePage’s “reg­u­lat­ory re­form pro­gram is a pro­pos­al to re­quire that every state agency re­view rules ‘to prove their reg­u­lat­ory policies im­prove Maine and are not just a road­b­lock to new job op­por­tun­it­ies.’” LePage “would also in­sti­tute a policy in which state agen­cies have 90 days to re­spond to new busi­ness per­mits.”

Mitchell “has ar­gued that” ME “can cre­ate new, sus­tain­able jobs by in­vest­ing in Maine’s “green eco­nomy” through a dual fo­cus on con­ser­va­tion meas­ures and de­vel­op­ment of re­new­able en­ergy sources as well as by strength­en­ing pro­grams aimed at en­cour­aging busi­ness in­vest­ment. She would ex­pand the cur­rent fo­cus on home and busi­ness weather­iz­a­tion by con­tinu­ing to seek fed­er­al fund­ing and ded­ic­at­ing rev­en­ues from the cap-and-trade pro­gram known as the Re­gion­al Green­house Gas Ini­ti­at­ive to­ward con­ser­va­tion” (10/8).

It’s Already Sno­we­ing In Maine

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) and Sen. Susan Collins (R) “are not on the bal­lot next month, but they are on the cam­paign trail for oth­er GOP can­did­ates across the state, and in oth­er states.”

Snowe “has ap­peared at events with the GOP top of the tick­et can­did­ates” in­clud­ing LePage and “so has Collins.” And “Collins said she has ap­peared with dozens of loc­al can­did­ates throughout the state and has cam­paigned in Phil­adelphia for” PA SEN nom­in­ee Pat Toomey (R) and says “she may cam­paign for oth­er” SEN “can­did­ates if she is asked and sched­ules per­mit.”

Collins: “This is a very im­port­ant elec­tion here in Maine and across the coun­try. These elec­tions are go­ing to be so crit­ic­al in de­term­in­ing the fu­ture of our state that I have to be in­volved”

Snowe: “I am go­ing to be cam­paign­ing very hard for Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in Maine, which is my first pri­or­ity, but also across the coun­try. I will be at­tend­ing events and help­ing to raise money and do­ing as much as I can to help can­did­ates” (Leary, Bangor Daily News, 10/10).

No In­die Cred

“Des­pite spend­ing more money than any oth­er can­did­ate and im­press­ing people with his com­mand of the is­sues, Cut­ler has been un­able to build any mo­mentum, polls show. Bar­ring a surge in the last weeks of the cam­paign, Cut­ler’s pop­ular­ity may have peaked this sum­mer.”

“Cut­ler said he has no­ticed a surge of sup­port at cam­paign events in the past week, due to his per­form­ance at re­cent for­ums and de­bates. He said the polls in Septem­ber wor­ried him, but he now be­lieves he can win.”

Cul­ter: “The only ques­tion is wheth­er I have enough time, and I think I do” (Bell, Cent­ral Maine Morn­ing Sen­tinel, 10/8).

The Tip­ping Point

Cent­ral Maine Morn­ing Sen­tinel’s Tip­ping of­fers can­did cri­ti­cism for the GOV can­did­ates, writ­ing “Mitchell cam­paign’s first two TV com­mer­cials of the gen­er­al elec­tion show stark con­trasts between her” LePage “on the en­vir­on­ment and edu­ca­tion.” But “polit­ic­al sci­ent­ists tell us that these kinds of con­trast ads do the most to in­form the elect­or­ate, and they’re prob­ably the best move to make for a can­did­ate who is down in the polls, but they also, ob­vi­ously, con­tain a neg­at­ive mes­sage. At­tack­ing one’s op­pon­ent, even on le­git­im­ate dif­fer­ences of policy, has in­her­ent risks, es­pe­cially in Maine’s easy-go­ing polit­ic­al cul­ture.”

For LePage “the mis­takes have been nu­mer­ous” and “most have been per­son­al gaffes rather than stra­tegic blun­ders, but the fact he keeps mak­ing them points to­ward lar­ger prob­lems with­in his cam­paign.”

LePage “should have taken a per­son­al crash course in both pub­lic policy and pub­lic re­la­tions. It will take a lot to re­pair the dam­age LePage has done to his cam­paign and change his pub­lic im­age as a reck­less and dis­hon­est right-wing can­did­ate. The best thing he can do now is to hire some good com­mu­nic­a­tions staff and ac­tu­ally do what they tell him to. He should pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to ad­vice about mes­sage con­sist­ency. The best way to avoid mak­ing that kind of pub­lic mis­take is to be pre­pared with a simple, clear and rel­ev­ant mes­sage and to stick to it and not get side­tracked. LePage may have already be­gun to make the ne­ces­sary changes. The cam­paign re­cently hired a new press sec­ret­ary, Dan De­meritt, who has pre­vi­ously done com­mu­nic­a­tions for the” ME GOP­ers (10/10).

The Re­pub­lic­an Party is in the midst of a self-im­mol­at­ing primary that pits its elect­able, if un­pop­u­lar, mod­er­ate wing against its un­elect­able, pas­sion­ate flank. Pres­id­ent Obama has more than 10 times the cash on hand as his nearest rival, and his team is rap­idly build­ing a ground or­gan­iz­a­tion un­like any seen in mod­ern polit­ics. And, slowly, the eco­nomy is boun­cing back.

Those should be sure signs of a pres­id­ent cruis­ing to­ward reelec­tion. But Obama’s team doesn’t sleep easy at night, and it shouldn’t: The eight-month path between now and Elec­tion Day con­tains a series of obstacles, all of which pose threats of vari­ous de­grees to the pres­id­ent’s cam­paign. They are the three G’s — gas, Greece, and the Gulf.

To­geth­er, those three factors rep­res­ent what former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Don­ald Rums­feld might call the “known un­knowns” of the cam­paign. They con­spire to throw the best-laid plans of even the smartest cam­paigns off-track and off-mes­sage, and they demon­strate the lim­ited power of the pres­id­ency in an age of glob­al eco­nom­ic con­nectiv­ity and tur­moil.

Already, rising gas­ol­ine prices have dam­aged Obama’s stand­ing and sapped some of the con­sumer con­fid­ence that was build­ing around a re­viv­ing eco­nomy. A CBS/New York Times poll re­leased on Tues­day showed Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing fall­ing to 41 per­cent, its low­est point ever in that sur­vey and a 9-point drop since the second week of Feb­ru­ary. Just 39 per­cent said they ap­prove of Obama’s hand­ling of the eco­nomy, down 5 points since last month. That pre­cip­it­ous drop has come as gas prices skyrock­eted from an av­er­age of $3.47 a gal­lon when Obama re­gistered a 50 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing in the last New York Times sur­vey on Feb. 13, to $3.81 a gal­lon on Wed­nes­day.

Re­pub­lic­ans, wisely, began ham­mer­ing Obama over gas prices weeks ago, be­fore most Amer­ic­ans began feel­ing the most acute pain at the pump. The cost of gas rises pre­dict­ably dur­ing each spring; a seni­or Re­pub­lic­an strategist in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the gas-price line of at­tack con­fided that the party was get­ting a head start, to put it­self in a po­s­i­tion to cap­it­al­ize when Amer­ic­ans tuned in. The dif­fer­ence between this year and oth­er years, however, is that prices have be­gun to spike earli­er in the year than in the past; over the past six years, gas prices have tra­di­tion­ally spiked around May and June, rather than in Feb­ru­ary and March, ac­cord­ing to data from the En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mean­while, the threat of a pos­sible shoot­ing war in the Middle East looms lar­ger than ever. Is­raeli of­fi­cials are talk­ing openly of at­tack­ing nuc­le­ar fa­cil­it­ies in Ir­an, and De­fense Sec­ret­ary Le­on Pan­etta told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the United States has be­gun pre­par­ing mil­it­ary op­tions if eco­nom­ic and dip­lo­mat­ic sanc­tions fail. If Is­rael at­tacks, they will likely do so with Amer­ic­an sup­port — not only polit­ic­al, but also mil­it­ary. Though polit­ics used to stop at the wa­ter’s edge, any open con­flict would have ripple ef­fects in the pres­id­en­tial con­test.

The prob­lem is neither side is con­fid­ent in its ana­lys­is of how those ripple ef­fects would play out.

But the biggest threat to Obama’s reelec­tion chances comes not from the Middle East; it comes from Europe, where fin­an­cial in­stabil­ity could lead to an­oth­er re­ces­sion. Greece’s tee­ter­ing eco­nomy is be­ing bailed out in small in­cre­ments, in ex­change for ma­jor aus­ter­ity meas­ures ne­go­ti­ated by the European Cent­ral Bank, Ger­many, and France. But elec­tion years in the United States can bring gov­ern­ing to a grind­ing halt, and Greece is no dif­fer­ent. Le­gis­lat­ive elec­tions set for April or May could put aus­ter­ity ne­go­ti­ations on hold, jeop­ard­iz­ing the del­ic­ate task of re­struc­tur­ing the Greek eco­nomy.

And though they have moved off the front pages, the fin­an­cial situ­ations in Italy, Spain, and Por­tugal re­main pre­cari­ous. The in­ter­con­nec­ted glob­al eco­nomy means any dis­aster in Europe, no mat­ter how con­tained, would re­ver­ber­ate here. Every bit of bad news in Athens leads to a bad day on Wall Street.

In all three cases, there is little an in­cum­bent pres­id­ent can do to al­le­vi­ate these loom­ing threats in the short run. Even if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment were to al­low off­shore oil drilling and the Key­stone XL pipeline, it would be years un­til the ad­di­tion­al ca­pa­city reached U.S. mar­kets; short of open­ing the Stra­tegic Pet­ro­leum Re­serve, Obama has few op­tions that would lead dir­ectly to lower gas prices. If Is­rael de­cides its win­dow of op­por­tun­ity to delay Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar am­bi­tions is clos­ing, there is little Obama can do to con­vince Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu to hold off, while polit­ic­al pres­sure back home could force the United States to back its spe­cial ally. And the suc­cess — or fail­ure — of the Greek re­cov­ery lies more in An­gela Merkel’s hands than in Obama’s, put­ting a ma­jor factor in the fu­ture of the U.S. eco­nomy’s re­bound out of White House con­trol.

Demo­crats felt good about Obama’s pro­spects in Feb­ru­ary. But polit­ic­al real­ity — and the real­it­ies of the lim­its of the pres­id­ency — tem­per their moods. The known un­knowns that will cloud the next eight months mean neither side can be as­sured of vic­tory, no mat­ter how bright the latest poll seems.

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