Phil: The fall election matchup for governor is now official. How about we offer a little advice to each on what they need to do to win?
Ethan: That’s easy. Mike Michaud: Don’t go too far left. Gov. LePage: Stop going so far to the right. Eliot Cutler: You have spent $1.2 million, and the last poll had you at 14 percent. Fire some people.
Phil: Well, I guess we’re done.
Ethan: You’re not getting off that easy. Let’s start with the incumbent. What’s your advice to the big guy (although I have noticed he trimmed down a bit).
Phil: Being governor has been good for his health! Le- Page is well prepared for the onslaught of criticism before him. My take is that he needs to ignore the cacophony coming from Michaud and highlight his accomplishments. Stay focused on his vision for the next four years and meet as many people as he can.
Ethan: Sage. I honestly don’t have a lot negative to say about his campaign. He has conserved resources, secured his base and shown a willingness to fight back (is that an understatement?).
My only advice: Show us your human side. I have seen him up close with at-risk kids and immigrants. He has a real ability to connect. And, oh yeah, let your policies reflect some empathy, at least until Nov. 4. Taking away support from those most in need may play well to your base, but middle Maine is more compassionate.
Phil: Well said. However, I think you are underestimating how much “middle Maine” wants the welfare system to change. Perhaps that’s why your man Michaud came out with a competing welfare reform plan recently?
Ethan: Change is one thing. Lack of compassion is another. OK, how about Cutler?
Phil: Does Cutler need a different plan from the last race?
Ethan: You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice.
Phil: My advice for Eliot is to stay above the fray while Michaud and LePage duke it out. Be seen and heard as a nonbickering voice of reason. Prepare for the last few days of the election when independents are deciding who to vote for, and capture them and conservative Democrats who discover Michaud’s liberal voting record in Washington.
Ethan: I was actually serious with what I said above. I know most of the people working for Cutler, and while they are all good people, clearly they have not served him well. He has spent $1.2 million, has less than $40,000 left in the bank and all he has to show for it is dropping from 24 percent in November to 14 percent in April. Some heads would be rolling if this were my campaign.
Phil: Cutler’s senior team are seasoned media and campaign veterans. They know it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. In the middle, plan your work and work your plan. My sense is Cutler is doing just that.
Ethan: All well and good, but the plan they are working has him whining about endorsements instead of creating a contrast on substance. He doesn’t have the personality or political skills of U.S. Sen. Angus King, so he needs a clear distinction in issues. Right now he’s all over the place. One day, he’s against the state raising the minimum wage. The next, he says he’d sign it into law. He was much more disciplined in 2010.
Phil: It seems that way because the headlines of the day change by the hour. Cutler wisely is offering his opinion as the issues pop up, therefore connecting with potential voters who care about that particular issue. His challenge will come in October, when he must synchronize his vision, combine it with campaign enthusiasm and attract persuadable voters.
Ethan: OK, now Michaud. Let me take this one, as I am not sure you have any idea how Democrats think.
Phil: Does anyone?
Ethan: OK, I deserved that. Honestly, for Mike to win, he needs to do a lot more of the same. He is running a solid campaign on all fronts: fundraising, issues, rapid response and grass-roots engagement. He needs to continue putting forth his vision, contrasting with LePage and ignoring Cutler.
The one move he needs is for the Democratic Governors Association to run some early positive TV ads introducing him to southern Maine. My sense is that Mike needs to inoculate down here against the missiles that are certainly coming.
Phil: Good advice. You know as well as I that Republicans are going to go after his long track record of inconsistencies – his decade of liberal votes in Washington in juxtaposition with the Blue Dog rhetoric he proclaims on Main Street. Indeed, he should get on the airwaves and tell voters which Michaud will sit in the Governor’s Office.
Ethan: Yeah, Republicans will say anything to win. Hey, have you noticed there’s another independent in the race? His name is Lee Shultheis. His slogan is “I’m running for Governor … but not really.”
Phil: Yeah. I heard he actually got his signatures in before Eliot! Advice for him?
Ethan: Change your slogan.