One of the hardest lessons I learned as a young campaigner was to ignore early polls. At best they can show broad trends, but more often they’re of little strategic value and a non-indicator of what might transpire at the polls on Election Day.

During the height of Hilary Clinton’s “inevitability” in 2007, for example, the early polling would’ve augured for shutting down the Obama campaign in New Hampshire and returning to Maine. Yet Barack Obama is president.

Even late polls can miss actual voter sentiment or significant voter movement. Days before the 2008 New Hampshire primary, every poll had Obama up between 7 and 9 points over Clinton. On Election Day, our internal pollster told me confidently that we’d “win by at least 8 points.”

Clinton prevailed by 2.6 points.

The fact is, during the course of every campaign, the polls go up and the polls go down, provoked by any number of completely unpredictable events, crises and unforced errors.

That’s why the amount of time and energy spent analyzing and debating early polling in Maine’s gubernatorial contest is, well, silly. Sure, it provides plenty of fodder for pundits, but it’s basically meaningless.

That’s why I’m surprised the Michaud campaign is so publicly embracing their very slim early leads, all of which are within the margin of error. There will almost surely come a time when Mike is tied or trailing, and the campaign will then need to explain why those polls – in contrast to all the ones that came before – don’t matter.

The best thing for any campaign to do is stay focused, keep strong and execute your plan. If you live by the polls, you die by the polls, too.

LEPAGE’S MEDICAID FLACK

The issue of Medicaid expansion continues to deeply divide legislative Republicans and Democrats, with both debating the wisdom and economic benefit of accepting millions in federal dollars to insure 70,000 low-income Mainers.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew contends Maine will be on hook for $150 million in state dollars every budget cycle if the state expands Medicaid. Democrats, buoyed by a Kaiser Foundation study cited by the conservative Heritage Foundation, estimate Maine could save $690 million between 2014 and 2022 if it expands Medicaid coverage.

With the differing economic numbers and deep polarization, Maine citizens and policymakers alike could have benefited from a dispassionate, objective analysis of the issue.

Instead, the DHHS granted a nearly $1 million, no-bid contract to Gary Alexander, Pennsylvania’s controversial former secretary of public welfare and an outspoken opponent of Medicaid expansion.

Setting aside the lack of transparency in the contract’s award and its fiscal appropriateness, Alexander’s clear ideological agenda undermines the credibility and objectivity of any report he ultimately produces, ensuring that no clarity or political compromise results from it.

In other words, what was an opportunity for the governor and legislative Republicans to validate their policy position with an objective third-party review instead looks more like a vacuous political exercise financed at taxpayer expense. It also suggests that their opposition to Medicaid expansion is unable to withstand the scrutiny of a legitimate examination.

REFUSING TO GOVERN

As some of Maine’s neediest residents stand in the cold awaiting state-coordinated rides to medical appointments that never arrive, and as a more than $50 million budget shortfall looms, the governor continues to prohibit his commissioners from appearing before legislative committees seeking solutions to critical issues.

He even refuses to submit a supplemental budget to the Legislature, a maneuver unprecedented in state government history by all memory.

The decision is not only an affront to the Legislature itself, but also an insult to Maine citizens who expect their leaders to work together to conduct the people’s business as efficiently and effectively as possible.

But this isn’t run-of-the-mill LePage bluster and obstinacy. This intentional refusal to collaborate and coordinate with a co-equal branch of government is a decision not to govern. And it’s a decision firmly rooted in the governor’s re-election campaign.

By refusing to govern, LePage deflects responsibility for almost any state government management failure, like the MaineCare rides debacle, the crisis at Riverview or the looming budget shortfall.

The governor put this political calculus on full display last week when he addressed the no-bid Alexander Group contract, saying, “I didn’t hire him, DHHS did. … I don’t know much about what they did … .” (Note to the governor: As the state’s chief executive, you run the DHHS.)

The tactic allows the governor to once again campaign as a political outsider, railing against “Augusta” even as he controls the very levers of state government.

The move is as shrewd and audacious as it is cynical and shameless.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ