Phil: Well, well, well. It looks like we might actually have a three-way race on our hands. With Sen. Angus King’s endorsement of Eliot Cutler, maybe Cutler will rise above the 12.6 percent he is currently garnering in the governor’s race.
Ethan: Not sure a blessing from even the likes of King can make Eliot governor. The political graveyard is full of big named endorsements that never went anywhere: George Mitchell of Tom Andrews; Olympia Snowe of Kevin Raye; Angus King of gay rights in 1998. Heck, even you endorsed me in my race for mayor and look what happened!
Phil: I still believe you would be a great mayor for Portland. I was actually surprised that Angus made the endorsement. I worked closely with him and Mike Michaud when I served on the Appropriations Committee in the Maine Senate. I know that Angus respects Mike and works well with him. Seems unusual that he would now turn around and work against someone he relied on as governor.
Ethan: Agreed. I wonder if there was any quid pro quo from the 2012 U.S. Senate race? Eliot worked hard for Angus that year and when Charlie Summers cut the deficit below five points, over $1 million came in from Americans Elect to prop Angus back up. Guess who served on their board just prior to joining Angus’ team? You guessed it, Eliot Cutler.
Phil: I remember it well. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his buddies’ bucks came to the rescue. I expect you are correct that some political payback was/is going on here. King doesn’t usually stick his neck out (although he did endorse me once) so there must be some reason he is endorsing someone who is down 30 points in the polls.
Ethan: Regardless of the reason, do you think the endorsement will have much of an impact?
Phil: In the short run for sure. This gives Eliot’s campaign a fresh start and the media something to talk about during a thin August news cycle. Speaking of which, did you notice Cutler synchronized the endorsement with a new television ad?
Ethan: Sure did. Good spot. First guy to speak into the camera and he is starting to fill in the gap about what he’s been doing for the past four years. Plus, it showed a gentler Cutler – warm and smiling.
Phil: The message I saw most loudly was the business focus of the ad. He comes across very CEO-like. Creating jobs. Encouraging investment. Overall, the ad made me think he is trying to appeal to moderate/conservative men.
Ethan: Maybe he’s looking to steal a few votes from LePage? Lets see if the red team continues its push to promote Cutler if that is the case!
Phil: Hard to see LePage’s voters drifting away if that’s Cutler’s strategy.
Ethan: The one hole is that there are virtually no women in the ad. Only a couple that are essentially bystanders.
Phil: An astute observation that feeds my belief that Cutler’s political scientists are looking to appeal to working male voters. Perhaps this voting demographic is a vein that polling indicates he can attract.
Ethan: Even in an ad appealing to men, you should make sure women are represented, as both Michaud and LePage did in their opening salvos. I expect it was an oversight that will be fixed in the next ad.
Phil: If we get back to Angus and his endorsement, clearly Democrats like Angus better than Republicans. And if Angus goes “all in” to support Eliot by engaging in some actual hand-to-hand campaigning, I think its impact will most likely come at Michaud’s expense.
Ethan: Yes, I would say that is true. But again, we both agree that endorsements rarely carry much weight over time. If I were Michaud, I would simply continue doing what I am doing. Roll out a few big name endorsements of my own, keep running the kinds of ads he has been running, and keep shaking hands. I would say the same to LePage.
Phil: Agreed. The King endorsement does not fundamentally change anything. It perhaps encourages voters to take another look at Eliot, but for him to truly get back in this race, he needs to get his campaign on message (do they even have a message this time?) and get more ads on TV like the one he is running. But if he gets to Labor Day and the polls still show him barely in double digits, this latest endorsement will join that political graveyard you mentioned earlier.
Ethan: Do you think it will do any damage to King, if that ends up being the case?
Phil: Are you kidding? He’ll have four more years in the Senate before he has to face voters again. This will be a distant memory.