January 22, 2013

Cutler may take step toward governor run

The independent plans 'something' this week. Separately, a poll indicates he'd be a spoiler in a three-way race.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

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click image to enlarge

In this July 2010 file photo, Eliot Cutler and Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa from her Food Network television show, listen to a question from a member of the audience during a luncheon in Portland. Cutler, the independent who finished second in Maine's 2010 gubernatorial race, may take his first step this week toward a second run for governor.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Related Documents

PDF: Polling results on potential 2014 gubernatorial candidates

Americans Elect's involvement drew complaints from Republican operatives, who claimed that the group illegally coordinated with King's campaign. The complaint centered on Cutler, who was the chairman of King's state campaign.

Cutler later produced a letter showing that he had resigned from Americans Elect before it got involved in the Senate race, but that letter has not pacified skeptics.

Rumors about Cutler's formation of a campaign committee follow increasing speculation that former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci is weighing another run.

Baldacci reiterated last week that he is considering a bid in 2014. He did so after offering pointed criticism of LePage's governing style during an event in Bangor.

When asked at an event in Portland about Baldacci running again, LePage responded, "Christmas comes early sometimes."

Melcher, at UMaine-Farmington, said Tuesday that there may be a strategic reason for Cutler to get involved in the race early. He said his announcement could influence decisions by Democratic candidates, removing some from the field.

"It's like they say, the best opponent is the one that doesn't run," Melcher said.

Other than Baldacci, no well-known Democrat has expressed interest in running for governor. Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, told the Press Herald in December that the party would welcome the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud or U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Ed Gilman, Michaud's spokesman, said the congressman is focused on his work in Washington.

"Anything with respect to the gubernatorial race, he'll consider in due time," Gilman said.

Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Pingree, said Tuesday that she had "heard from people who have urged her to run, and she will certainly consider it."

However, he said, the 2014 "election is still a long ways off and right now she's focused on her job in Congress."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of the Portland Press Herald.

Steve Woods, a Yarmouth town councilor who ran for the U.S. Senate last year as an independent, announced in November that he was rejoining the Democratic Party for a potential run for governor.

Woods is considered an outsider in the Democratic Party, but has tried to elevate his profile since November.

Grant told the Press Herald in December that the party will have "a serious, well-financed campaign" no matter who runs for governor in 2014.

"We're not backing down from any challenge, whether it comes from Paul LePage or Eliot Cutler," Grant said.

Implied in that declaration is that Democrats settled for third in last year's U.S. Senate race because they feared a repeat of the 2010 governor's race.

Cutler's late surge siphoned votes from Democrat Libby Mitchell, who finished third. Republicans tried to replicate that outcome in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, when outside GOP groups ran ads attempting to bolster Democrat Cynthia Dill, who finished third.

"The lesson of 2010 is very much fresh in the minds of the Democrats," said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. "If Cutler announces his campaign committee or his candidacy, it puts pressure on the Democrats. A lot of them may be thinking, 'I can beat Paul LePage. But can I beat Paul LePage in a race with Eliot Cutler?'"

Grant has said Democrats will do polling to help determine who is their best candidate.

On Tuesday, Public Policy Polling, a national firm, released a poll that indicated LePage is one of the most unpopular governors, with 39 percent of respondents approving of his performance and 55 percent disapproving.

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