March 28, 2010

State gives unenrolled candidates some hope

Eliot Cutler, seen as the lone independent Blaine House contender, aims for Maine's base of unaffiliated voters.

By Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

It's primary season in Maine, and all eyes are on the 12 Republicans and Democrats who would be governor.

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Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth is running for governor

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Angus King was twice elected governor of Maine as an independent

But what about No. 13?

Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth is running as an unenrolled candidate, also referred to as independent.

There are 10 unenrolled candidates for governor, but only Cutler, at this point, is considered a contender in the November general election. Groups hosting candidate forums have included Cutler in their lineups, and he has a professional staff working on his campaign.

Maine has a track record when it comes to electing independents as governor. Jim Longley Sr. ran and won as an unenrolled candidate in 1974. And Angus King won twice as an independent, serving two terms from 1995 to 2003.

"Maine is at least somewhat unique in terms of being a pretty hospitable environment for independents or third-party candidates," said Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist, "especially those who have some viability or base to them."

While voters give major party candidates an official endorsement in the primaries, independents must establish themselves as serious aspirants, said King.

"First and foremost, you have to convince people you're for real -- contributors, supporters, people who you want to have endorse you," said King, who is not endorsing any candidate. "You've got to convince them it's not a long shot, a fluke."

Another disadvantage, said King, is that independents don't have the ready-made structure political parties enjoy, such as town and county committees.

And, said Cutler, there are no party lists of registered voters, no caucuses, no state conventions to tap into.

With a crowded primary field, it can be difficult to get media attention, said Cutler. Many small media outlets aren't running news about the gubernatorial campaigns, because so many candidates are in the running. At other times, he's been ignored by reporters who were focused on candidates facing primary elections, he said.

Because the primaries are in June, an independent has four months to catch up to the party candidates, in terms of getting attention, King said.

But independents must still work before, during and after the primaries to have a chance, he said.

"If you're trying to start from ground zero on June 15th, it's probably too late to build up the necessary name recognition, to be a realistic contender come November," said King.

To counter those disadvantages, King began running a full-time campaign in April 1993, a year and a half ahead of the 1994 general election.

He advertised throughout the primaries, as if he were running in one.

"It was enough so my name was out there amongst all the others at the time of the primary," he said.

And, said King, his campaign concentrated on "being in the hunt" in terms of fundraising.

"We were always either at the top or near the top. The money was handy -- but the whole idea was to say to the public and press, 'This guy's for real,'" said King.

At the end of the 1994 race, King had spent $1.74 million and received 35.4 percent of the vote. Democrat Joseph Brennan had spent $1.37 million and gotten 33.8 percent, and Republican Susan Collins had spent $585,000, getting 23.1 percent.

Cutler has been working full time on his campaign since last June. He's out on the stump, having been to every county at least twice. He's run TV ads, to get his name and face in the public eye. He's raising and spending money.

According to the latest campaign finance reports, filed in January, Cutler had raised $266,485 and had spent $183,159. Cutler's treasurer is Robert C.S. Monks, also a board member of and investor in MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective Web sites.

(Continued on page 2)

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