Democrat Libby Mitchell has drawn even with Republican Paul LePage with less than five weeks to go in the Maine governor’s race, according to The Maine Poll taken this week.
“It looks like everything is shaking up,” said Michael Franz, a political science professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. “This is going to get people excited about the race.”
In the poll, conducted for MaineToday Media by the Portland research firm Critical Insights, 30 percent of likely voters supported Mitchell and 29 percent favored LePage — a big shift in a race that LePage has consistently led by 12 or more percentage points.
The 405 registered voters, all of whom said they are likely to vote in November, were surveyed on Monday. The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. That means that if the poll were repeated 100 times, in 95 cases the results would be within 4.9 percentage points of those reported.
In the first Maine Poll on Sept. 19, LePage had 38 percent voter support and Mitchell had 25 percent.
“This race is only going to get more intense as we move forward in the last five weeks,” said Mitchell’s campaign consultant, Jesse Connolly. “We feel the momentum is definitely turning, as is evident in this poll.”
In a prepared statement, Brent Littlefield, consultant to the LePage campaign, wrote that the campaign has said repeatedly that it must work hard, regardless of what polls show.
“It is critical that our supporters and voters know that they must speak to their friends and neighbors about the need to create jobs in Maine and reform government,” Littlefield said. “Paul LePage is one candidate running who has a track record of successfully creating jobs, growing the economy and reducing government spending.”
Franz noted that Mitchell or her supporters have been airing a lot of TV ads, drawing a contrast between her and LePage. Also, the survey was taken Monday, the day after former President Bill Clinton visited Maine to rally the Democratic base for Mitchell.
LePage has gotten attention recently for his response to questions about his wife’s tax status, giving some the perception of “hot-headedness,” Franz said.
Sandy Maisel, a political science professor at Colby College in Waterville, suggested the change at the top has more to do with LePage than with Mitchell.
“Libby has not moved; LePage has moved down,” Maisel said. “It seems to me that that’s a result of people learning more about him and his blowup with the press, his failure to respond to that.”
Franz said LePage could change his campaign going forward.
“Paul LePage has to sort of remind people why he was the clear choice for the Republicans, talk about fiscal responsibility and getting our fiscal house in order, and that Libby Mitchell is from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” Franz said.
“Whatever Libby Mitchell is doing, keep doing it,” he said.
The percentage of voters who said they were undecided also increased in the latest poll: 26 percent said they didn’t know who they would vote for, compared with 21 percent undecided in the earlier poll.
The new poll showed some movement among the gubernatorial race’s three unenrolled candidates. Eliot Cutler had 9 percent of voter support, down from 11 percent; Shawn Moody moved up to 5 percent from 4 percent; and Kevin Scott was at 0 percent, down from 1 percent.
Edward “Ted” O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manger, seized on the growing pool of undecided voters.
“With four weeks to go, we’re seeing the undecideds grow, not shrink,” he said. “That bodes very well for Eliot and his independent candidacy. They’re taking a good hard look at the candidate. I’ve got to believe most of those voters are going to end up breaking Eliot’s way when they focus on the candidates, their experience, what they’re proposing.”
Moody noted that his numbers are up, and the poll was taken before his campaign had some positive news — an endorsement from former Maine GOP Chairman Mark Ellis.
“Obviously, any forward motion is good,” Moody said. “The more undecideds put those votes in play. If you had a candidate and now you’re undecided, you’re looking for another home.”
Scott questioned the validity of a poll that surveyed only 405 registered voters in Maine.
“Those poll numbers don’t match up to the volume of volunteers reaching out and the feedback from voters,” Scott said. “Since the WGME debate (on Saturday), the numbers are going up statewide for requests for lawn signs, literature, as well as some contributions.”
The poll broke down voter support in various ways, including region, age and gender. According to the results, 41 percent of men supported LePage, compared with 24 percent who favored Mitchell. Thirty-six percent of female voters supported Mitchell, compared with LePage’s 19 percent.
LePage held 43 percent of the 18- to 34-year-old vote, while Cutler and Mitchell each had 12 percent. Mitchell had 34 percent of the 35- to 64-year-old vote, and LePage had 26 percent.
Geographically, Mitchell’s support was strongest in the southern and coastal parts of the state; LePage’s came from northern and central Maine.
Of those polled, 53 percent were female, 47 percent male. Forty-two percent were age 18 to 44, followed by 41 percent at 45 to 66 and 17 percent at 65 or older.
Politically, 37 percent of those polled were Democrats, 36 percent were Republicans and 23 percent were unenrolled.
According to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, there are 977,025 registered voters in Maine. Democrats comprise 33 percent of those voters; Republicans make up 28 percent. Unenrolled voters are the largest group, at about 36 percent.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: