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

(Continued from page 1)

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

Joe Phelan

Cutler can still win because this election is especially volatile, and one of every four voters is still undecided, said Ted O'Meara, Cutler's campaign manager.

Cutler is the overwhelming second choice for both Mitchell and LePage supporters, and is perfectly positioned to get votes from people who are unhappy with the nominees of the two major parties. O'Meara said.

Many voters who now support LePage or Mitchell are motivated by fear that the nominee of the other party will win, he said.

He said people should vote for someone because they believe he or she is the best candidate.

Cutler is ahead in one category: spending money.

Through Sept. 14, the most recent campaign finance reporting period, Cutler had spent $1.2 million. Mitchell, who is receiving public funding through the Maine Clean Election Act, had spent $1 million. LePage had spent $402,000, and Moody had spent $382,000.

Maine voters have shown a willingness to elect an independent governor. Jim Longley Sr. won as an unenrolled candidate in 1974. And Angus King won twice as an independent, in 1994 and 2002.

In his first election, King was behind in every poll until the last week. this time in the campaign, however, a poll showed he had 31 percent of the vote, behind only Democrat Joe Brennan.

Cutler said the current political climate is similar to the climate in 1974, when nearly 40 percent of voters were still undecided in the first week of October. A poll on Oct. 17 pegged Longley's support at 10.8 percent, and the press portrayed him as spoiler. In the end, Longley won 40 percent of the vote, to Democrat George Mitchell's 37 percent and Republican James Erwin's 23 percent.

Both parties and the press failed to take Longley seriously, said Potholm, who wrote about the election in his book "This Splendid Game." He won because he positioned himself as the outsider at a time when the public was cynical about politics because of the Watergate scandal.

The high number of undecided voters at this point in the campaign presents an opportunity for candidates who are trailing, said Kay Rand, who was King's campaign manager in 1994. She said Cutler must do a better job connecting with unenrolled voters -- who represent 35 percent of the electorate -- and angry male voters.

"Clearly, the race is pretty volatile," she said. "Eliot needs to start contrasting himself with the other two candidates."

At a forum held by the Portland Regional Chamber on Wednesday, Cutler did just that.

He said LePage's "tough-sounding rhetoric and made-up stories" can't replace plans and a vision. He said Mitchell would not make any substantial changes to the status quo.

"I want you to have a better choice," he said.

Stephen Train, 43, a fisherman from Long Island, is a Republican who is supporting Cutler. He said he is urging other Cutler supporters to vote for the best candidate, and not to worry about the polls.

People who think Cutler is aloof haven't had a chance to meet with him, said Train, who has seen Cutler at three meetings with fishermen,

"Affable might be reaching, but he has always been approachable," Train said. "He listens well. I'm voting for the guy."

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

 

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