PORTLAND – Eliot Cutler went to bed around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday convinced that he wouldn’t wake with a lead in Maine’s gubernatorial race but hopeful that it would be close enough to justify a recount.

By midmorning, trailing by nearly 7,000 votes with more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting, he concluded that he stood little chance of prevailing if the ballots were counted again.

Around 10:45 a.m., he telephoned Republican Paul LePage and congratulated him for winning the race.

“I didn’t want to stand in his way and extend the uncertainty,” Cutler said at a press conference at noon at his campaign headquarters in Portland. “It wouldn’t be good for him or the state.”

The independent from Cape Elizabeth said LePage thanked him but didn’t say much more.

By late Wednesday afternoon, LePage’s lead was nearly 10,000 votes. He had 215,459 to Cutler’s 205,583.

During his press conference, Cutler thanked his supporters and campaign workers. He became emotional when he said he had run for governor to honor his grandfather Harry Epstein, who immigrated to America from Eastern Europe, alone, when he was 12.

Throughout his campaign, Cutler talked about his grandfather, who worked as a peddler, selling goods door to door on what now is Route 9 east of Bangor.

Cutler said he might have won if the campaign had lasted a few more days.

He was critical of the increasingly common practice in Maine of people voting early with absentee ballots. He said the political parties use the system to lock down support, but the voters lose the ability to make choices based on what they learn about candidates in the last days of the campaign.

Cutler also was critical of the current voting system, in which a candidate can be elected governor without a majority of the votes. LePage got 38 percent, to 37 percent for Cutler, in unofficial returns.

Cutler said Maine should consider using a run-off system to ensure the governor has the support of a majority of voters.

He never mentioned Libby Mitchell by name, instead calling her the “Democratic nominee.” Mitchell finished a distant third with 19 percent of the vote.

During the last days of the campaign, Cutler complained that Mitchell and the Maine Democratic Party were running negative ads against him as part of an “unrelenting character assassination” funded and condoned by political parties and fueled by special interest groups.

He said about two-thirds of the attacks came from Mitchell and the Democrats, and one-third came from LePage. “If they thought I was a threat, they should have fought me with ideas and not junk,” Cutler said.

Cutler, who did not run any negative ads, said his surge in the polls in the last days of the campaign was a victory for those who oppose negative campaign advertising.

“I believe we have stuck a dagger in the heart of negative advertising in the state,” he said.

Cutler said he will remain on the “political stage,” but he declined to be more specific.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com