MILLINOCKET – Less than a week before Election Day, Eliot Cutler introduces himself to every voter he can.
But it’s rarely necessary. They have all seen his face on TV, often in ads criticizing him on behalf of his Republican and Democratic rivals.
“The other (candidates) are cutthroat. They really are,” Joan Monahan said after walking up to shake Cutler’s hand inside the IGA on Wednesday morning. “I’m a Democrat, but I’m still going to vote for you.”
Negative advertising is a common theme as the independent candidate for governor travels the state asking for votes.
Sometimes, he mentions it.
“I haven’t done any negative advertising. I won’t,” Cutler told members of the Millinocket Rotary Club. “I think it’s an insult to the voters of the state of Maine.”
More often, voters are bringing up the issue first.
“I was just talking about you down at the garage,” Mike Bragdon said when he ran into Cutler during breakfast at the Appalachian Trail Cafe. “Thanks for not putting the negative ads on.”
The ads criticizing Cutler are paid for by the Democratic and Republican parties, not the parties’ candidates. But the distinction doesn’t seem to matter to the voters who shake Cutler’s hand.
A prominent Maine Democrat spoke out Wednesday against anti-Cutler ads that his party is mailing to voters. The mailings accuse Cutler of being a past lobbyist for big oil or for China, both of which Cutler has refuted. One says, “With Eliot Cutler as Governor, Mainers might as well learn Chinese.”
Sam Spencer, Maine’s delegate to Democratic National Committee, issued a statement calling the mailings absurd, dishonest and unworthy of his party.
“These mailings include smears that go far beyond normal hyperbole, healthy combativeness, or the customary give and take of Maine political campaigns,” his statement said.
Spencer is Cutler’s godson, but said he has not supported Cutler’s campaign. He said he issued the statement after getting calls from other angry Democrats.
While they were a recurring topic of discussion, the ads didn’t appear to spoil the upbeat mood on the campaign trail Wednesday.
Cutler started the day at 5:30 a.m. as workers arrived at Katahdin Paper Co. in East Millinocket.
It’s the mill that announced it would close shortly after Gov. John Baldacci was first sworn into office, nearly eight years ago. Baldacci helped keep the mill open. With a new governor about to take over, workers at the plant are once again nervous about their future.
“I’m going to vote for the guy who keeps this place going,” said Skip Haskell, one of the paper makers who filed past Cutler before clocking in.
Cutler told workers that he would do his best to help them and the plant, and that he is the candidate who is best equipped to turn around the economy.
Cutler’s reception at the plant was mostly supportive, not unlike the one he got on the streets of Portland on Tuesday.
While some workers shook his hand and said, “good luck,” or “I’ll think about it,” more than a few told Cutler he had their support.
Cutler was the center of attention at the Appalachian Trail Cafe, a lively breakfast spot so cozy that almost every table is involved in the same general conversation.
There was more laughter than serious policy talk, but several diners left wearing Cutler stickers.
One man balked when Cutler asked for his vote. “Cape Elizabeth, I don’t know ” he said, referring to Cutler’s suburban hometown in southern Maine.
“Bangor!” Cutler replied, referring to the city where he grew up.
When longtime Democratic state Rep. Herb Clark walked in, Cutler stood up and endorsed him to loud applause. Clark didn’t return the favor, although he did the next best thing and joined Cutler for breakfast.
Before going to Bangor for a debate Wednesday night, Cutler delivered a 30-minute stump speech to about 20 members of the Millinocket Rotary, then answered questions. He finished by saying that people from all parts of the state have the same love for Maine.
“As soon as any of us, each of us, is halfway across the bridge (into Maine), we’re home. We all feel the same way,” he said. “We can turn this state around.”
The speech worked for Bruce McLean, owner of a Subway franchise in town.
He took home two “Cutler” lawn signs, saying he would replace the one he had posted for Republican Paul LePage.
McLean said the negative campaigning of the two parties was as much a reason as Cutler’s speech.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]