Another Independent Tries To Upset Establishment In Maine

Eliot Cutler announces his candidacy Tuesday. Democrats fear he could hand the governor’s race to LePage.

FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2012 file photo, Maine independent Senate candidate Angus King speaks at a news conference in Brunswick, Maine. King's opponent, Republican Charlie Summers is getting another television boost _ the biggest yet _ in the U.S. Senate race in Maine. A National Republican Senate Committee official says $600,000 is being spent over the next two weeks. The official wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official tells The Associated Press that Maine is one of three states where the committee is currently engaged. 
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Kevin Brennan
Sept. 24, 2013, 2 a.m.

Maine has a long tra­di­tion of sup­port­ing in­de­pend­ent can­did­ates, most re­cently with Sen. An­gus King in 2012. But when in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate Eli­ot Cut­ler launches his second gubernat­ori­al run in Maine on Tues­day, he’ll be greeted with Demo­crat­ic cri­ti­cisms that he’s help­ing hand the race to Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Paul LePage.

“To call me a spoil­er now when I got twice the votes that the Demo­crat got in 2010?” Cut­ler asks when probed about com­ments made about his can­did­acy by Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation chair­man Peter Shum­lin and oth­er Demo­crats. “This is just babble. It’s mean­ing­less babble.”

The Demo­crat­ic charge against Cut­ler is straight-for­ward. Shum­lin said in May: “A vote for Eli­ot Cut­ler is a vote for Paul LePage.” Early pub­lic polling sug­gests that the GOP gov­ernor would lose badly in a one-on-one match­up against Rep. Mike Michaud, the likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee. But in a three-way race like the one that al­lowed him to win the gov­ernor­ship with just 38 per­cent of the vote in 2010, LePage’s chances of win­ning a second term in­crease dra­mat­ic­ally.

Cut­ler has his own ar­gu­ment to make: After start­ing the 2010 gubernat­ori­al race as a vir­tu­al un­known, he lost to LePage by less than two per­cent­age points and out­paced Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Libby Mitchell by 17 points. That per­form­ance, coupled with Maine’s his­tory of elect­ing in­de­pend­ent can­did­ates, make him more cred­ible con­tender than fringe can­did­ate.

These two com­pet­ing nar­rat­ives, along with the of­ten-con­tro­ver­sial LePage’s up­hill fight for an­oth­er four years, com­bine to make Maine’s gubernat­ori­al con­test one of the most com­pel­ling races of the 2014 cycle. And Cut­ler’s can­did­acy, while prob­lem­at­ic for Demo­crats, vir­tu­ally as­sures a com­pet­it­ive race of some form or an­oth­er.

Un­like in 2010, Cut­ler, who re­leased a 104-page policy book last week, be­gins this race as a known quant­ity able to tap in­to an es­tab­lished net­work of donors. But he’ll likely face a stronger Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate than the un­der­whelm­ing Mitchell. Michaud, the six-term con­gress­man from Maine’s 2nd Dis­trict, was the party’s top re­cruit and seems less likely to cede usu­al Demo­crat­ic voters to an in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate.

But Cut­ler says one of the biggest prob­lems with Demo­crats la­beling him a spoil­er is the un­der­ly­ing as­sump­tion that co­ali­tions will closely mir­ror those from 2010. “There’s a real pos­sib­il­ity, if not a like­li­hood, that dur­ing the course of this cam­paign many people who voted for LePage — in­de­pend­ents, Re­pub­lic­ans — in 2010 and who are to one de­gree or an­oth­er dis­sat­is­fied with his per­form­ance in of­fice are go­ing to come to the opin­ion that either he shouldn’t or can’t win reelec­tion,” Cut­ler said. In oth­er words, any loss of sup­port to Michaud could the­or­et­ic­ally be off­set by at­tract­ing dis­en­chanted LePage voters.

Cut­ler also draws op­tim­ism from Maine’s his­tory of sup­port­ing in­de­pend­ent can­did­ates. Pri­or to win­ning the Sen­ate race last fall, Sen. An­gus King won two terms as gov­ernor run­ning as an in­de­pend­ent. Since King’s first win in 1994, an in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate has re­ceived at least 20 per­cent of the vote in every Maine gubernat­ori­al elec­tion but one. King is the only in­de­pend­ent in that stretch to ac­tu­ally pull off a vic­tory.

Cut­ler hopes that tend­ency to think bey­ond the two parties pays di­vidends for him the second time around. Asked if Michaud would make a bet­ter gov­ernor than LePage, Cut­ler said: “I don’t think about bet­ter. I think about best.”

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