Say what you want to about Gov. LePage, but the man has breathed new life into Maine politics.

From his first days in office, he has inspired constitutional study (“There’s got to be a recall provision in here somewhere!”) discussions of political theory (“There should be a runoff any time the winner gets less than half the vote!”) and the value of civil discourse (“Mommy, what’s Vaseline?”).

Sixteen months before the first vote is counted, the 2014 race is already shaping up as a three-way race involving the governor, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

But another way to look at this is a one-way race — a referendum on Gov. LePage, an up-or-down vote on the most divisive politician this state has ever seen. When the other candidates frame issues and claim positions in the long months ahead they should remember that they are running against him, not each other.

But that’s not exactly how it playing out, at least from the Cutler camp.

So far in July, we’ve already seen two news releases that go after Michaud instead of LePage. On Monday, Cutler announced that he had raised 40 percent more cash than Michaud, without stressing that Cutler did it in six months and Michaud in 17 days.

On July 2, Cutler put out an email claiming that Michaud was not a supporter of background checks for gun buyers, which was quickly dismissed by the Democratic Party as false, and that Michaud has received campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association, which is true.

These are very small digs and the kind of thing that any candidate should be able to take in stride, but why even make them? Instead of running against each other, they should be trying to outdo each other by showing how well they could take on the governor in the election that counts.

And it’s not like LePage hasn’t given them plenty to work with. After losing a bid to pass a law that would let military recruiters go into schools and do what they are allowed to do anyway under federal law, the governor has attacked legislative opponents, including decorated combat veterans, for being disrespectful to servicemen and servicewomen.

He based the need for this “emergency” legislation on unsubstantiated claims he received in an email from a supervisor of recruiters, who hadn’t actually been in the schools himself but had heard that they were unfriendly. Superintendents from the districts, who presumably have been in the schools, denied that they ever stopped the military from recruiting or from personnel coming into their schools in uniform.

Gov. LePage explained the discrepancy this way: The superintendents were lying. “I’d bet my life on the word of a recruiter over a superintendent any day of the week and twice on Sunday,” he said.

And if that’s not enough to work with, while LePage was fighting for the honor of the American fighting man, he pursued a policy that will leave 2,700 Maine veterans without any health insurance.

If Maine had expanded Medicaid eligibility this spring, those veterans would be covered.

This shouldn’t be complicated stuff for the other candidates. It’s like going to a pinata party without a blindfold.

So why go after Michaud? Cutler probably wants to hold his own in fundraising and the polls and doesn’t want Michaud to get too far ahead using the natural advantages that come with being a well-known congressman with party support on both the state and national levels.

But if Cutler wants to run against Michaud, he should do it — next June in the Democratic primary. If Cutler wants to skip that step and head right to November, he should run against the man he wants to replace.

Over the last two years, Cutler, who came within 10,000 votes of beating LePage, has been absent from the policy wars that race brought us.

Instead of being the standard bearer for opposition to the governor, he has been committed to the notion that both parties are equally to blame.

He recently came out for creating runoff elections in multi-candidate races, but when a bill to do that was before the Legislature this year, he did not campaign for it.

So now Cutler seems to be intending to run as hard against Michaud as he is against LePage. Maybe even harder, because most of LePage’s supporters are not up for grabs.

If you are interested in seeing a different governor in January 2015, you don’t want to see a big fight between Cutler and Michaud over the next 16 months. And there is no reason to have one.

Usually this far from the election, the hardest part of a campaign is getting anyone to pay attention.

Gov. LePage, with his uncanny ability to attract eyeballs, has guaranteed that won’t be an issue.

People are already watching this race with great intensity. Now let’s see what the candidates do with it.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

[email protected]


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