Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud has raised more than $300,000 since unofficially entering the 2014 race for governor a little more than two weeks ago.
Independent Eliot Cutler raised more than $430,000 in the past six months.
The size of Michaud’s haul in such a short time is impressive and indicates Democrats’ enthusiasm for him, said Ronald Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.
Michaud hasn’t formally announced that he is running, saying only that he is exploring a run next year. But he has been raising money aggressively, and his strong fundraising backs up the widely held belief that he is the only Democrat who can raise enough money to compete with Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Cutler, who self-financed part of his campaign in 2010, when he finished a close second to LePage.
Michaud said in a prepared statement that more than 1,100 donors have contributed to his campaign.
LePage’s campaign has not released fundraising totals, which will be made public when disclosure filings are due. Campaign finance reports must be filed with the state ethics commission by July 15.
LePage raised $1.4 million for his campaign in 2010 and was the top fundraiser in the general election.
Ted O’Meara, who managed Cutler’s 2010 campaign, said this year’s fundraising effort has exceeded its goals and Michaud’s fundraising is not a threat. He said Cutler has raised nearly $200,000 since Michaud announced in mid-June that he is exploring a run for governor.
“We are very pleased where we are,” he said.
The total does not include any money from Cutler himself, who gave about $1 million to his campaign in 2010. Cutler has been laying the groundwork for the 2014 election ever since then.
For a party candidate, the maximum contribution for each donor, including the primary and general elections, is $3,000.
The maximum donation to Cutler is $1,500 because he will not run in a primary election.
At this stage in the campaign, 16 months before the election, a candidate who raises a lot of cash can “knock out” potential opponents before they can get started, Schmidt said.
That’s a message Michaud wants to send to the financial backers of potential opponents, including potential Democratic primary opponents and Cutler, Schmidt said.
Michaud’s fundraising effort got a boost when Bonnie Porta of Cape Elizabeth decided to serve as his campaign treasurer. Porta and her husband, Robert C.S. Monks, helped raise money for Cutler in 2010.
Michaud, often described as a hesitant fundraiser, has not used emails and online solicitations as widely as other candidates have. He has also, on average, relied more on donations from political action committees for his congressional campaigns than other House members have.
Last week, Michaud acknowledged in an interview in Washington that he will have to step up his fundraising efforts for a gubernatorial campaign, but said he was impressed by the financial support he had received.
“It’s always difficult asking people for money,” Michaud said. “We haven’t had a fundraiser yet. Right now, everything is people going online and donating. But, unfortunately, (fundraising) is part of the process. You have to raise money in order to have an effective campaign, so I definitely will have to be making some calls to ask people to donate to the campaign. I would much rather be out there in the field talking to people, seeing what is on their mind.”
Schmidt said the Maine Democratic Party has much at stake in this election. It was “freaked out” by its third-place finishes in the 2010 governor’s race and last year’s U.S. Senate race, in which Democrat Cynthia Dill won only 13 percent of the vote.
He said Maine Democrats must convince the Democratic National Committee, which coordinates fundraising and election strategy, that finishing third is not the “new normal” in Maine, and that races in the state are good investments of national campaign dollars.
LePage filed for re-election back in August 2011. According to campaign finance reports, the governor had raised $172,706 as of Dec. 31, 2012.
Brent Littlefield, a senior political adviser for LePage, said the governor never releases campaign contribution data before it is made public.
Littlefield said he’s certain that Cutler will end up raising more money than LePage because Cutler is a millionaire who can fund his campaign. But he said it’s unclear whether Michaud can raise as much money as LePage.
Littlefield said he expects a “fairly robust turnout” on Tuesday at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, where former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will appear at a fundraiser for LePage.
— Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: