October 8, 2010

Candidates Speak: Can Eliot Cutler win?

His biggest challenge right now is convincing voters that he can still make it, despite his low standing in recent polls.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Correction, Friday, October 8, 2010 at 11:20 a.m.: The original version of this article contained inaccurate information which has been removed. MaryEllen Fitzgerald has never volunteered for candidate Eliot Cutler.

Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governer, speaks recently during a news conference at the State House in Augusta.

Joe Phelan

Less than four weeks before Election Day, Stanley Archie is still undecided about his vote for governor.

The 69-year-old Saco resident was drawn initially to Republican Paul LePage, but now he worries that LePage is too combative. Democrat Libby Mitchell is too entrenched in the establishment, he says.

That leaves him looking at independent Eliot Cutler, who is smart and has a great resume, he says. But Archie doesn't want to waste his vote on a spoiler.

"His standing in the polls is kind of scary," he said of Cutler.

Political experts say that is Cutler's biggest challenge right now: convincing voters that he can win.

Despite spending more money than any other candidate and impressing people with his command of the issues, Cutler has been unable to build any momentum, polls show.

Barring a surge in the last weeks of the campaign, Cutler's popularity may have peaked this summer. A poll by Rasmussen Reports on Aug. 12 showed that 16 percent of likely voters supported him.

The Maine Poll, done for MaineToday Media, pegged his support at 11 percent on Sept. 13 and at 9 percent on Sept. 27.

In an interview Thursday, Cutler said he has noticed a surge of support at campaign events in the past week, due to his performance at recent forums and debates. He said the polls in September worried him, but he now believes he can win.

"The only question is whether I have enough time, and I think I do," he said.

Cutler is now ratcheting up his campaign.

On Thursday, he aired a new television commercial in the biggest ad buy of his campaign. Cutler says in the ad that he would provide an alternative to partisan bickering in Augusta.

In an e-mail to supporters Thursday, Cutler said he is running the largest online advertising effort in the state's history and distributing more than 10,000 yard signs across all 16 counties.

"Remember the only wasted vote is a vote for somebody you don't believe in," Cutler said in the e-mail.

While some pollsters say Cutler can still get back in the race, others say it's too late. They say Cutler has become a distraction in an election that only Mitchell or LePage can win.

Cutler now has to scramble to stay ahead of Shawn Moody, an independent who has more appeal among moderate Republicans who are unhappy with LePage, said Christian Potholm, a government professor at Bowdoin College.

Potholm said Cutler, who was an aide to Sen. Edmund Muskie and worked in the Carter administration, is popular among business leaders and affluent moderates but has failed to connect with "small-town Republicans," a much bigger voting bloc.

"He comes across as somebody who has all the answers," Potholm said.

It's clear that Cutler won't win, said Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College. At the same time, he said, it's difficult to determine whether Cutler is taking votes away from Mitchell or LePage.

Maisel agrees with Potholm that Moody, who has trailed Cutler in the polls, may pass Cutler and emerge as the primary alternative to Mitchell and LePage.

MaryEllen FitzGerald, president of the polling firm that did The Maine Poll for MaineToday Media, said it's too soon to say that Cutler's campaign is failing. She said poll results after Columbus Day weekend are much more significant.

"I am certainly not willing to write him off at this stage," said FitzGerald.

(Continued on page 2)

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