Eliot Cutler, an independent who lost Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election to Republican Paul LePage by less than 10,000 votes, and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who lost his independent bid for U.S. Senate by more than 20 percentage points, called for more pragmatism in politics during a telephone town hall Monday night.

The event was arranged by No Labels, a new Washington, D.C.-based group that is seeking to foster bipartisanship across the country.

No Labels said it attracted more than 7,000 listeners from Maine and across the country.

Cutler and Crist took six questions — all from Mainers — during the conference call, which lasted about 35 minutes.

“We need everyone working together — all the folks who feel politically disenfranchised — we need channels of communication, places to congregate, we need to organize and apply our strength,” Cutler told listeners.

Nancy Jacobson, one of No Labels’ founding members, told listeners that the group is not asking political leaders to give up their partisanship, just to set aside the labels “so we can do what government should do and solve problems.”

“We are a movement just like the tea party is a movement, just like Moveon.org is a movement,” said Jacobson.

Cutler said he will soon begin a similar effort based in Maine.

“I’m going to be announcing an effort that’s going to run in parallel with No Labels to do that right at home in Maine,” he said.

A caller identified as Hank from Portland asked Cutler and Crist how No Labels could generate the political momentum needed to compete with the “entrenched forces” of the two main political parties.

“Today’s voters, particularly younger ones, pay considerably more attention to what their friends are saying on Facebook than they do to what political parties are telling them to think,” said Cutler.

“It’s a matter of reaching out.”

When asked about electoral reforms he would support to make it easier for independent candidates to compete, Cutler said runoff elections would make the most sense.

He also reprised complaints he made soon after November’s election, that Maine’s absentee voting system is too open.

“We need to go back to the kind of absentee voting we used to have, that sometime in a week or 10 days before the election you can vote if you have a reason not to be able to get to the polls.

“But voting five weeks before the election, I think, is actually anti-democratic and I don’t think it’s a good idea and I don’t think it’s good for our democracy,” he said.

Polling showed that Cutler’s support surged near the end of last fall’s campaign.

“The issue, to me, is whether voting ought to start . . . before people have had really an opportunity to pay attention to the debates, to the discussion among the candidates and get to know them,” he said.

Both Cutler and Crist, who ran in races with at least three competitive candidates, said winning candidates should have to earn majority votes.

“Our new U.S. senator was not elected by a majority, and I wonder about the rightness of that,” Crist said.

In response to a question about education, Cutler said he plans to testify in support of Steve Bowen, LePage’s pick to lead the Department of Education, during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]