A leading advocate for gay rights in Maine, Betsy Smith, is endorsing Eliot Cutler for governor and organizing an independent campaign to help elect the candidate next year.

Smith, who was executive director of the group EqualityMaine, announced her support for Cutler two weeks after the leading Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, said publicly for the first time that he is gay.

Meanwhile, several top organizers of Maine’s campaign last year to legalize same-sex marriage work for the Michaud campaign.

Smith identified herself as the manager of the political action committee Campaign for Maine, which she described as a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents who are working to elect Cutler.

Smith described Cutler as someone who has put forward a plan to improve Maine’s economic health and “embraces a vision for Maine that is inclusive and collaborative.”

Smith, a registered Democrat, wrote that supporting Cutler “is not about working against Mike, it’s about working for the best leader for Maine.”

Cutler finished second in the 2010 gubernatorial election behind Republican Paul LePage, who is seeking a second term in office.

In her statement, Smith does not mention Michaud’s recent announcement that he is gay. Michaud would be the nation’s first openly gay governor.

He went public about his sexual orientation in response to what he said was a growing “whisper campaign” by unnamed opponents.

Smith appears to draw a distinction between the Democrat and Cutler on the issues of abortion and gay rights.

Michaud has pledged to defend women’s reproductive rights if elected governor, but has acknowledged that his own views on abortion have evolved.

He declared his support for gay marriage during last year’s successful referendum campaign to legalize it in Maine.

“I’m a Democrat and my values are reflected in the Democratic Party platform,” Smith wrote.

“Rarely do I support a candidate who is not a Democrat. But this time around, not only are my core values of equality and choice most closely aligned with Eliot Cutler’s … but his leadership strategies of building coalitions among all political affiliations are an extension of the work I’ve been doing for the last two decades and are critical for moving Maine forward.”

Matt McTighe, Michaud’s campaign manager who led last year’s successful referendum on same-sex marriage, touted Michaud’s record.

“Having run last year’s campaign to win marriage equality for all Mainers, I can attest that Congressman Michaud’s support for the initiative – both publicly and behind the scenes – played a critical role in that victory,” McTighe said in a statement.

“I firmly believe that he is not only the strongest candidate in the race but the only candidate who has a proven track record of bring Democrats, Republicans, and independents together to address the real issues facing Maine people.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinMillerDC