January 24, 2013

Cutler signals Blaine House run

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Independent Eliot Cutler, who lost a tight race to Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2010, has officially taken the first step toward running for the Blaine House in 2014.

The Cape Elizabeth lawyer's move raises the prospect of another three-way gubernatorial race, a scenario that saw LePage win election in 2010 with 38 percent of the vote, ahead of Cutler and the Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Mitchell.

Cutler's campaign committee filing appeared on the Maine Ethics Commission's website Thursday afternoon.

That means Cutler can now start to raise money for his potential bid, but he isn't officially running for governor.

"He'll be spending the next few months traveling around the state, meeting with people, reconnecting with people from last time, really making sure the support is there for another run," said Cutler spokesman Ted O'Meara, who said if all goes well, Cutler will formally announce he's running in the late summer or early fall of this year.

Cutler, who lost to LePage in 2010 by less than 10,000 votes and has kept a high profile ever since, teased the announcement to the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday, responding to rumors that he was forming his campaign committee by confirming that he would "do something" this week relating to his possible candidacy.

After Thursday's announcement, attacks came from Cutler's right and left.

"This is the worst-kept secret in the history of Maine politics," said Brent Littlefield, a political consultant involved in LePage's reelection committee.

He said Cutler has spent a lot of time and money in running for the Blaine House since he lost to the governor.

In a news release, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said that soon, "a strong candidate will emerge who Democrats will unite around. That candidate certainly won't be Eliot Cutler."

Recent poll numbers, suggesting LePage has an edge in a three-candidate race but not a two-candidate one, have fueled earlier-than-usual speculation about potential hopefuls' odds.

On Tuesday, a poll from Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based firm seen by many as Democratic-leaning, showed Cutler was more popular overall than LePage: It said Cutler had an eight-point edge if he and LePage were the only two candidates.

But PPP said Cutler had a tough path to victory with LePage and a Democrat in the race, which seems most likely.

In hypothetical matchups between LePage and five Democrats, including former Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, Cutler never gained more than 32 percent of those polled.

LePage won every PPP scenario by at least five percentage points, and Cutler finished third when Pingree and Michaud -- likely Democrats' ideal candidates, were in the mix. Neither Pingree nor Michaud have expressed interest or ruled out running.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and other media outlets.

Littlefield questioned bias in the poll, as well as its automated methodology, and O'Meara urged observers not to take too much stock in such an early poll.

"Everything that we've seen is very encouraging," O'Meara said. "There continues to be a lot of support for him making another run."

Baldacci, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, said recently he is considering running for governor in 2014, in part because of the "negativism" permeating the political climate.

(Continued on page 2)

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