Disaffected with his longtime political party, the candidate decided to run for governor as an independent.

It’s a story line that applies this year to Maine.

Or Massachusetts.

Or Rhode Island.

Three former party stalwarts are running for the top executive position in those states as unenrolled candidates.

In Maine, Eliot Cutler is waging a campaign for the Blaine House as an independent. Cutler, a longtime Democrat, was a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, served as counsel to the Senate subcommittee on the environment and was also President Carter’s top official for environmental, natural resource and energy issues.

In Massachusetts, two-term state Treasurer Timothy Cahill has left the Democratic Party to challenge Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick as an independent. Cahill was previously Norfolk County treasurer and a city councilor in Quincy. (There’s also a Republican in the race: Charles Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.)

And in Rhode Island, the scion of a Republican dynasty is running as an independent for governor. Between the two of them, Lincoln Chafee and his father, John H. Chafee, held the U.S. Senate seat in Rhode Island for 30 years. Lincoln Chafee — largely seen as a Rockefeller Republican — was defeated in 2006 as anti-Republican sentiment swept the country.

He left the party a year later, saying the national Republican Party had shifted too far from his own, on issues ranging from war to economics to the environment, according to reports in The Providence Journal. He’s running for the seat being vacated by Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, who is termed out.

All three could find real traction during this election cycle, marked by a high level of unhappiness with the status quo, suggested Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist.

“Any time you have voters that are angry, that really increases chances for an independent to be successful,” he said. “Even though one party’s in the minority, they still get some blame.”

The three candidates have each hired Tad Devine as a media consultant.

Devine has done a variety of national and international work but is well-known as a top Democratic strategist in this country. He was senior strategist to the 2000 presidential ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman and was senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, as well. In 1992, he managed Sen. Bob Kerrey’s presidential campaign.

Devine said that while the country seems polarized over some big issues, Americans seem to be moving in increasing numbers to the middle of the political spectrum.

“I think we’ve seen this all across America in our politics right now. Voters who had normally had an orientation toward one party or another are moving away from that orientation,” said Devine.

“It’s reflected in all of the research. Where people are asked nationally — or even in state polls — what do they consider themselves to be, in increasing numbers they’re moving to the middle of the spectrum, eschewing their former identity,” according to Devine.

Devine said there was disappointment in the Clinton years, disturbing party members. And what followed — the Iraq war and the start of a deep recession during the Bush presidency — led to dissatisfaction among members of the Republican Party, he said.

“I think this is a moment in time. I’m not sure if it’s going to get a lot bigger. It could,” said Devine. “It’s manifesting itself in New England. I think the voters in that region of the country are looking for an alternative.”

Devine said the three candidates are motivated to run as independents for different reasons. Chafee “couldn’t stand it in the Republican Party anymore,” said Devine. Cahill felt that state government was spending money in a way that would hurt the middle class, he said. And Cutler wants to make a difference in his state but is “frustrated by the way politics work there.”

The emergence of the three as viable independent candidates is, to a degree, because there’s a “lack of functional Republican opposition” in the region, said Devine.

The Democratic Party has such overall control of politics at various levels of government, there are few viable ways for Republicans to get themselves known. An alternative route, said Devine, is to run as an independent.

Cutler, for his part, said he thought the two parties have become distilled to narrow roles, making it hard for them to embrace new ideas and making them “irrelevant.”

In running his campaign, Cutler said, he’s found Maine residents don’t ask about ideology or social issues.

“They’re looking for someone who they think can make Maine work,” said Cutler.

Cutler’s campaign treasurer, Robert C.S. Monks, is also an investor in and board member of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective Web sites.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]