Former Maine Gov. Angus King announced Saturday he is supporting Eliot Cutler in his bid to be Maine’s next governor.

“These are extraordinary times, and I believe Eliot Cutler is an extraordinary leader to help us through them,” King said at a Portland news conference.

It is the first time King has made such an endorsement since serving as governor from 1995 to 2003. Like Cutler, King ran as an independent.

King said he took the stand because of a combination of extreme challenges and extreme partisanship facing the state. It was the anti-Cutler mailings from the Democratic Party that finally “pushed me over,” he said.

“We need someone who can bring people together. It’s going to be almost impossible to get through what we are facing if it’s all going to be partisan,” King said. “He’s a really smart guy. He has thought about these issues as deeply as anyone I have ever encountered in Maine.”

Cutler, who joined the news conference by phone from Ellsworth, thanked King and said he looked forward to having the ex-governor join him on the campaign trail in the next two days.

“I am obviously delighted and I’m honored, really genuinely honored, to have your support,” Cutler said. “You are a visionary governor who showed Maine and showed America that you don’t need a political party to be an effective leader.”

The endorsement by a popular two-term governor gives Cutler some added credibility, said Douglas Hodgkin, a retired political science professor at Bates College.

It will especially help Cutler with independents and to a lesser extent with Democrats, Hodgkin said.

Democrats, he said, will be more influenced by recent polls that suggest Cutler is in second place and may be the most viable alternative to Republican Paul LePage.

King said he had planned on sticking to his policy of not taking sides, and doesn’t dislike any of the leading candidates.

“I have a great deal of respect for (LePage) and I have a 25-year friendship and real affection for (Democrat) Libby Mitchell,” he said.

But, he said, he decided to publicly support Cutler last week after receiving a mailing that criticized the independent candidate for having connections in China, where he headed a law office.

“What we really need in this state is someone who has Maine roots and national and international experience. If we want to shut Maine down and close our borders, we’re dead ducks,” King said.

The Maine Democratic Party on Friday apologized for the mailings after receiving complaints that they were anti-Chinese.

One of the mailers, for example said, “With Eliot Cutler as governor, Mainers might as well learn Chinese.”

Cutler said he has been talking with King about the governor’s job since before he started to run 16 months ago.

The candidate called the endorsement “huge” and said it will help build more momentum in the final days of the campaign.

“I think it’s a big deal for undecideds and independents and for anybody who believes that Maine politics belongs in the middle,” Cutler said.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]