Politics

August 16, 2013

Michaud joins governor's race, and obstacles are many

Launching his Blaine House campaign from a strategic – and symbolic – central Maine city, the Democrat says: ‘I’m ready.’

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, announces Thursday that he’s running for governor during a news conference at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston.

Photos by John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Maurice “Mo” Marquis, wearing a Marine Corps League cap, shows his approval of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s run for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday. The Democrat’s rivals, incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, promise a challenging race.

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Read Rep. Mike Michaud's prepared remarks Thursday

In 2011, LePage returned to the Franco-American Heritage Center shortly after he was sworn into office. The crowd was impressed, laughing as LePage told stories about hiding out in Little Canada and stealing Halloween candy from children there.

"Isn't that awful?" LePage said. "And now I'm governor of Maine."

Michaud has already begun picking at the governor's unpolished finish, saying the state requires a leader with civility. He said Thursday that the governor's "extreme agenda" was hurting Mainers.

"He's attacked our cities, our towns and our workers," he said. "He's attacked our teachers, our schools and our universities. He's attacked our environment and our economy."

There are other obstacles facing the Democrat besides LePage. Cutler and Michaud are competing for many of the same voters and campaign donors in an effort to gain the upper hand in a race that could divide unenrolled and Democratic-leaning voters.

A similar scenario unfolded in 2010, when LePage won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. However, national and local political observers believe the bloc of voters that split in 2010 could unite behind either Cutler or Michaud.

Right now, observers say, the race is between Michaud and Cutler to take on LePage. Abandoning a relatively safe congressional seat is a risk for Michaud, Melcher said, but the congressman has a path to victory.

"I think that there are enough anybody-but-LePage voters that will likely wait to see if Michaud or Cutler pulls head," Melcher said.

Whether anti-LePage voters coalesce behind Cutler or Michaud could be decided over the next year. Democrats are betting that Michaud is the right candidate to unite Maine's independent and Democratic voters. He was part of the "blue dog" coalition in Congress and has won election six times in the more conservative 2nd Congressional District.

NO EASY PATH TO GOVERNORSHIP

His entry in the race has attracted attention from the Democratic Governors Association, a national political group that targets key races with political advertisements and advocacy efforts. The group has been running online ads critical of LePage since June and it's expected to increase its presence in Maine as the 2014 election nears. The same goes for the Republican Governors Association, which spent $1.2 million here to support LePage in 2010.

Democrats are hopeful that the bulk of the Republican group's resources will be diverted elsewhere. There are 36 gubernatorial contests in 2014, and 10 of them include Republican incumbents in states that play prominently in national politics, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats also point to assessments from observers such as Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who last week said Michaud's entry into the race and poor poll numbers for LePage had changed the Maine governor's race from a "toss-up" to "leans Democratic/independent."

Michaud told supporters Thursday that the path to victory would be difficult. He called on Democratic volunteers to hit the ground running.

"I punched a clock for a lot of years," said Michaud, referring to his 29 years working at a mill. "I know when it's time to get to work. Now it's time. I'm ready."

Littlefield, LePage's political adviser, has challenged claims that the governor is in trouble politically, saying the campaign's polling shows LePage with strong approval numbers.

Thursday, Littlefield attempted to chip away at Michaud's reputation as a conservative Democrat. He said Michaud's record in Congress showed that he supported "extremism and liberalism," and that he is advocating for more welfare spending "that will send Maine back to the growing welfare of the Baldacci years."

Cutler, in a written statement, said Michaud's entry into the race offered voters a clear choice between "the cynical and partisan party politics that have overtaken Washington and Augusta and have denied opportunity to thousands and thousands of Maine people."

"My candidacy will offer Maine voters a clear vision for the future, a sound plan to rebuild our economy, and independent leadership that can bring about real change," Cutler said. "I'm excited about the extraordinary support we are receiving all over our state from Democrats, Republicans and independents who want to work with me to take Maine in a new direction."

Michaud may face a Democratic primary challenge. Yarmouth's Steve Woods, who ran as an independent in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, announced last year that he was running as a Democrat in 2014.

Independent hopefuls include Lee Schultheis of Freeport and Adam Eldridge of Brewer. David Slagger, a Green Independent, has also been fundraising for 2014.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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Additional Photos

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Phil Nelsen of Lewiston listens to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announce his candidacy for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday.

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Supporters applaud during a news conference at which U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announced his candidacy for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday.

 


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