The battle for the Blaine House continued to unfold Tuesday as the candidates began posting another round of campaign finance reports.
With seven months remaining before Election Day, political watchers are keeping a keen eye on the money race, which can be a barometer of a candidate’s popularity and a measure of his ability to run an organized campaign. Recent polls show a highly competitive race between Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
Cutler, who has been trailing the deadlocked LePage and Michaud, posted cash contributions of more than $389,000 for the most recent reporting period — Jan. 1 to April 22. More than $200,000 of the donations came from Cutler’s own checkbook, including two $100,000 loans near the close of the reporting period.
Michaud’s campaign posted more than $462,000 in cash donations, bringing the total to over $1.5 million since he joined the race last year. The campaign was criticized in January for spending a lot of money without gaining a significant edge in the polls. Michaud spent less during the last reporting period, close to $262,000, including nearly $60,000 on fundraising services.
The Michaud campaign has $813,000 cash on hand.
Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for LePage, said the campaign expected to be heavily outraised and outspent. Both are true, according to the latest reports. LePage’s campaign drew $123,000 in donations, bringing its total to $842,000 since Le-Page launched his re-election bid in 2012. The campaign may be attracting fewer dollars than its rivals, but it’s also spending less, about $77,000 for the latest reporting period and $223,000 for the entire campaign.
The governor’s re-election committee has a cash balance of more than $618,000.
LePage’s campaign is also touting an upcoming fundraiser with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who heads the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $1 million helping LePage win election in 2010. Littlefield also noted that the campaign was unable to accept donations from companies and individuals who have a lobbying presence during the legislative session. The session is expected to adjourn Thursday.
Cutler has now loaned his campaign $400,000, nearly 32 percent of his $1.26 million in cash contributions to date. Perhaps more significantly, Cutler’s campaign continues to burn through cash. The campaign reported a cash balance of $109,000 in its most recent report. It has spent more than $1.15 million since Cutler declared his candidacy in January 2013, mostly for campaign consultants.
The Cutler campaign has said that it fully expects he will self-finance much of his race, because he can’t collect the same maximum contribution of $3,000 from individual donors as his party-affiliated rivals. Maine election law allows party candidates to draw $1,500 contributions for the June primary and the general election even if the candidates don’t face a primary challenger. Neither LePage nor Michaud has a primary challenger, which allows them to draw $3,000 for two elections, while Cutler’s campaign maxes out at $1,500 per donor.
Cutler’s spokeswoman, Crystal Canney, noted the funding disparity and claimed that the political parties had “cleared the way so there are no opponents for either of the party candidates in the primary.”
“What kind of choice is that for voters?” she said in a press statement.
Many of Cutler’s contributions in his latest report were well below the $1,500 individual donor limit. Twenty-three individuals donated the maximum.
Michaud continues to hold the money advantage. On Tuesday the campaign repeated its claim that he is the only candidate who can beat LePage.
“Voters are ready for an experienced leader with a track record of bringing people together to solve problems, and who will treat everyone with dignity and respect. That’s Mike Michaud.” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @stevemistler