PORTLAND — Eliot Cutler invoked the words and spirit, and even the offspring, of Sen. Edmund Muskie on Monday to decry the use of attack advertising in Maine’s increasingly contentious race for governor.
Edmund S. Muskie Jr., the late senator’s son, spoke up for Cutler during a news conference at Cutler’s campaign headquarters.
“My father would be outraged – and few people could be outraged as forcefully as Ed Muskie – at the kind of campaign that is being waged in Maine this year by both political parties,” he said.
Brandishing glossy fliers depicting Cutler as an oil spiller, a jobs outsourcer and a tax raiser, the candidate who once helped Sen. Muskie craft environmental protection law quoted his former boss from a speech in Lewiston 40 years ago:
“I can’t recall ever regarding a campaign as an opportunity to destroy someone else’s reputation, or to destroy his character, or to misrepresent his life’s work,” Cutler said, echoing Muskie’s sentiments. “What kind of people are these who would use the American political process to abuse the truth to which the American people are entitled in a political campaign?”
At a debate sponsored by environmental groups Thursday night, Cutler asked Democrat Libby Mitchell to repudiate a Maine Democratic Party mailer featuring photos of Cutler, two Maine lighthouses and a flock of oil-soaked pelicans.
On Monday, Cutler displayed a Maine Republican Party flier with his mock job application for governor saying he will raise taxes and appears to be of questionable character, and a flier from Democrats showing two broken fortune cookies with the no-longer-hidden message: Maine jobs could go to China.
“More than half-a-million dollars in negative advertising is now being directed at me, and I suspect the final number will be much higher,” Cutler said. “You’re going to drown out any discussion of the issues and any debate over ideas.”
Dan Demeritt, press secretary for Republican candidate Paul LePage, questioned why Cutler was silent on the subject six weeks ago, when polls started showing LePage with a wide lead in the five-way race that includes two other independents, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott.
“If Eliot Cutler was the independent leader he pretends to be,” Demeritt said, “he would have come out against the personal and political attacks against Paul LePage that started in September. Now that Cutler’s background is getting some attention, he’s crying foul.”
A recent fundraising letter from LePage’s campaign said more than $1 million has been spent this month on ads attacking LePage.
David Loughran, spokesman for the Mitchell campaign, said he found Cutler’s timing curious, particularly because “he’s been attacking Libby since the day after the primary” in June.
“I don’t think voters would agree that attacking someone at a press conference or a debate is better than in an advertisement,” he said.
When Republicans have distorted Mitchell’s record or diminished her accomplishments, Loughran said, she has responded with evidence to the contrary.
“Now that people are asking questions about (Cutler’s) career as a lawyer and a lobbyist,” Loughran said, “he seems to have a problem with this campaigning.”
Cutler renewed his pledge to keep attacks out of his own advertising and, with a week left before Election Day, called for a return to civil discourse rather than deceit and distortion.
“Political dialogue in Maine is being corroded by a refusal to debate the issues,” he said. “I think it’s a terrible shame.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org