It should now be clear to everyone that Eliot Cutler will be delivering a speech sometime in the next week.

He will thank his family for their sacrifice and praise his staff for their hard work. Most of all, he will thank the thousands of Mainers who invited him into their homes and shared with him their hopes for the future and their disgust with the status quo.

He will say something nice about one of his opponents and the need for all of us to work together to make Maine the place it can be. Then he will leave the stage. The speech is coming, the only question is when.

Cutler, who has run third in a three-way race in every single poll conducted over the past year, could fight until the end and make his speech next Tuesday night, or he could make the speech today. One way would help Paul LePage be returned to office for another four years, and the other could help make sure that LePage will be making a concession speech of his own next week.

Everybody admires a fighter. We all look up to the people who never give in, who refuse to lose, who don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” But there are times when leaders have to think about the people who are following them. For Cutler, this is one of those times.

A leader shouldn’t march his army off a cliff. Maine should not have to live under another LePage administration, with another 180 vetoes and more opportunities squandered in meaningless conflict. Imagine a repeat of the past four years, with the added spectacle of Democrats and independents viciously blaming each other for losing this election every time the governor does something outrageous.

Stepping aside before Election Day would not be easy for Cutler or for the people who believe in him.

The “strategic” voters have already melted away. The ones left in the Cutler camp are committed to their candidate and don’t want to abandon him. They want to vote their dreams, not their strategy.

That’s why Cutler should consider making his speech early.

Leaders don’t always like the options they have to choose from, but they have to make choices. That’s the kind of leader that Cutler and his supporters say he is. And this is his choice:

On issue after issue, Cutler and Democrat Mike Michaud are on one side and the governor is on the other.

Both Cutler and Michaud would expand MaineCare, bringing in hundreds of millions in federal money to insure up to 70,000 people. LePage vetoed expansion five times.

Both Cutler and Michaud would invest in Maine’s infrastructure and economy by approving reasonable bonding on a predictable schedule. LePage vetoed some bonds so they couldn’t go to the voters, and refused to issue others that the voters had already approved.

Both Cutler and Michaud would support public schools, help families pay for college and build markets for Maine-made goods and produce. LePage disparages schools, discourages families from thinking about college and has made Maine a national joke with off-color remarks.

Not all of Cutler’s voters would go to Michaud if Cutler steps aside, but enough of them probably would to make a difference. Even if they think Michaud would be one of the worst governors in Maine’s history, after LePage that’s called a step in the right direction.

Clearly, Cutler’s supporters are interested in more than just issues.

Many of them say that his candidacy is not just about him, but is a rejection of the two-party system. They say they resent the way it forces us to choose between candidates who perpetuate partisanship for political gain at the expense of the common good.

Some argue that a strong vote for Cutler would help build the movement of independent candidates in Maine, carrying on the tradition of Angus King.

But Cutler’s performance could also hurt that movement. A LePage win aided by a strong showing for Cutler would make it harder for voters to risk supporting a non-party alternative in the future – call it “Ralph Nader syndrome.”

People may not like having to choose between the lesser of two evils, but living under the worse of two evils is not that great either.

A system that lets people vote for a first and second choice would make this an easier choice. But that’s not our system or the choice that Cutler and his supporters have with less than a week to go.

Right now, they all know that this campaign is going to end with him giving a speech. The only question is when.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

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Twitter: gregkesich