Democrat Mike Michaud has the fundraising edge over Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler in the governor’s race, according to new campaign finance reports the candidates filed late Wednesday.
Each campaign offered its own interpretation of the contribution totals, in what political observers expect will be an expensive race for the Blaine House this year.
LePage supporters chided Michaud for spending so much of his $1 million war chest for a slight edge in recent polls.
Michaud supporters talked up his broadening support, while jabbing Cutler for a sizable loan to his own campaign.
Cutler complained that campaign finance laws are tilted toward party candidates, limiting his fundraising ability.
The rhetoric is typical of previous gubernatorial contests, but the early money race is more significant than usual.
Political observers in and outside the state are scrutinizing the Maine race, particularly the contest between Cutler and Michaud. The two are competing for the same pool of donors and each is trying to attract the united support of the anti- LePage vote.
“There is indeed a Michaud-Cutler primary going on among those who don’t want another deep split in the anti- LePage vote,” said Larry Sabato, director at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “So far at least, Michaud appears to be ahead in that primary. It is still early, though, and nothing is written in stone.”
As of the Dec. 31, Michaud had raised $1,003,239 compared with $945,386 for Cutler and $718,978 for LePage.
The reports show Michaud raised $700,000 over the last six-month filing period, more than double what he had raised during the first 17 days of his candidacy. Cutler has contributed more than $250,000 of his own money to his campaign for a total of $205,951 cash on hand.
Michaud has more than $612,000 cash on hand.
LePage raised $373,557 over the last six months for a cash balance of $573,000.
Cutler said he is at a disadvantage because he cannot receive maximum individual donations of $3,000 that LePage and Michaud can as party candidates. Because unenrolled candidates do not run in primaries, they can accept only $1,500 per individual.
“The people who are contributing are concerned about the economic future of Maine and understand that neither a career politician with heavy ties to special interests nor a failed and embarrassing tea party governor is the answer,” Cutler said in a written statement.
Cutler’s loan of $200,000 to his campaign came Dec. 13. His campaign has spent $600,000.
Michaud’s stronger fundraising performance in the last six months encouraged supporters.
“The grassroots support for Mike’s campaign is incredible,” Michaud campaign manager Matt McTighe said in a statement.
According to the Michaud campaign, 87 percent of its donations came from individuals, 82 percent of whom are from Maine.
Brent Littlefield, spokesman for the governor’s campaign, acknowledged that his opponents have raised more money, but issued a statement attempting to pair LePage’s lower fundraising totals with his fiscal conservatism.
“Frugality from 2010 win on display in 2014,” was the headline of the release. Littlefield also tried to use Michaud’s success against him, saying the campaign finance report reflects his governing style, “big spending with no end in sight.”
Michaud and Cutler have spent more on campaign operations than the governor, who has been fundraising for his re-election since 2012.
Michaud reported spending nearly $400,000 on his campaign, while Cutler has spent close to $600,000. The LePage campaign has spent about $146,000.
“LePage will have what he needs,” Sabato said. “He is already defined by his record, and campaign spending isn’t going to change that. In this particular contest, it all boils down to whether enough of those opposed to LePage can coalesce behind one candidate in time to prevent another split similar to 2010.”
Outside groups and political committees are also expected to play significant roles in the 2014 election.
The Democratic Governors Association has actively supported Michaud in the early going. It dumped $50,000 into its Maine-based political action committee over the last reporting period for a total of $231,000 for 2013. It has spent $57,000 so far on “research.”
The Republican Governors Association’s Maine political action committee had not posted its most recent activity, and didn’t show any financial activity through its most recent report in 2013.
The Campaign for Maine, a political action committee supporting Cutler, reported $142,000 in fundraising for 2013 and spent nearly $90,000. More than $55,000 has been spent on polling and research.
Cutler did not report any donations to his committee from political action committees and has said that he won’t accept them. However, there is nothing in campaign finance law that prohibits outside groups from spending on his behalf.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: