September 25, 2013

Eliot Cutler announces gubernatorial run

The independent who came within 2 percentage points of winning the Blaine House in 2010 says: 'This time we will.'

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

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With wife Melanie Cutler behind him, Eliot Cutler announces his independent candidacy for Maine governor at a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 24., 2013 at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Read Eliot Cutler's gubernatorial announcement speech

“Were Paul LePage an employee, let alone chief executive, of any company or public institution in Maine, he would not still be in office today,” Cutler said. “Maine people should not renew his contract in 2014.”

Cutler has said little about Michaud, the six-term congressman lured out of his safe seat in the 2nd Congressional District by the Maine Democratic Party. On Tuesday Cutler said he too “liked Mike” – a nod to the Democratic candidate’s campaign catchphrase – but said he was a “product of 30 years in Augusta and Washington.”

“His party’s policies didn’t work before and they won’t move Maine forward,” Cutler said. 

Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s communications director, said Cutler’s claim was an “easy talking point, but not so easy to prove.” Reinholt said Michaud’s career in the Legislature, during which he helped enact environmental reforms and a bipartisan agreement on a minimum wage increase, showed that the candidate could work with both parties. 

In addition to framing Michaud as emblematic of a Democratic party that held sway over state government for decades with "timeworn slogans and platitudes," Cutler also took aim at his early voting record on women’s choice on abortion and guns. 

Michaud, who has received endorsements and donations from the National Rifle Association as a congressman, has said that he’s supportive of background checks to buy firearms. Cutler indicated Tuesday that Michaud  may be softer on the issue than he’s let on. 

“I am not afraid of the NRA in Washington because I know that most NRA members in Maine agree with me,” said Cutler, referencing polling that showed Mainers support background checks.

Cutler’s dig at Michaud’s record on abortion stems from the Democrat' early support for pro-life initiatives. Reinholt said the candidate had “evolved” on the issue from the time when he was a 25-year-old lawmaker, citing his 100 percent pro-choice rating from national pro-choice groups. 

The attack against the political parties is nothing new for Cutler, who likened both to a "duopoly" in 2010. The rhetoric is aimed at unenrolled voters, the largest voting bloc in Maine. However, Cutler also garnered support from Democrats and Republicans. 

Political observers believe a number of Democratic voters backed Cutler late in the 2010 race as the party's nominee, Libby Mitchell, faded to a distant third in the polls. This year Democratic leaders worked hard to recruit Michaud to guard against a repeat of the 2010 election.

Recent polls have shown Cutler's support to be less than 20 percent, while Michaud has a slim edge over LePage. Two of the surveys were conducted by polling firms whose clients include Democratic candidates or organizations. Cutler's campaign has dismissed the polls, saying the election is more than a year away. 

Many political observers agree that the polls should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there are differing opinions about some of the results showing that respondents had not formulated an opinion about Cutler. 

According to a poll conducted in August by the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, Michaud's favorability rating was 53 percent. Cutler's was split. Thirty-two percent of respondents have a favorable view of him, but 35 percent weren't sure how they felt about him.

Cutler supporters say the number of undecided respondents showed that the independent has a potentially high ceiling of support. Others argued that voters should have an opinion of Cutler because he has stayed close to the political scene and it was widely assumed that he would run again in 2014. 

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