Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, has given money to a number of federal candidates over the years, which is not surprising given his personal wealth and his interest in politics and public policy.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission going back 20 years, Cutler has given to at least three candidates who are pro-life, or were at the time of his contribution.

The first two were Randy Tate, a Republican who ran for Congress in Washington state in 1994, and Thomas Reynolds, a Republican congressman from New York from 1998-2008.

The third? That would be Democrat Mike Michaud. And that was in 2002, when Michaud first ran for Congress and was pro-life.

Michaud, of course, now says he is 100 percent pro-choice, but the Cutler campaign and others have criticized the Democrat for flip-flopping on the issue of abortion.

Michaud has acknowledged that he has cast votes in the past against choice but says he has evolved on the issue.

So, should Cutler’s support for pro-life candidates open him up to criticism on this issue, given that he has said he “unequivocally” supports a women’s right to choose?

“Eliot’s record of supporting and contributing to pro-life candidates speaks for itself,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said. “His distortions of Congressman Michaud’s record are ringing hollow with voters, especially after NARAL and Planned Parenthood embraced Michaud with their endorsements.”

Asked whether he thought his contributions to pro-life candidates reflect an evolution on the abortion issue, Cutler said no.

In the cases of Tate and Reynolds, Cutler said he gave to their campaigns because his law firm had been involved in cases in their respective states and he was asked to give. He said he never asked either candidate about their position on abortion because it didn’t matter.

Reynolds, while he was in Congress, had a zero percent rating by NARAL and a 100 percent rating by the National Right to Life Committee. Tate, after serving one term in Congress, went to work for Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, which is staunchly pro-life.

And in 2002, when Cutler gave $250 to Michaud’s campaign, he said he never asked about Michaud’s stance on abortion.

Additionally, Cutler worked for two Democrats – Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter – who were both pro-life.

Cutler said he couldn’t even remember Muskie’s or Carter’s positions on abortion because it never really came up during his time with them.

It’s also worth noting that Cutler has donated to a number of pro-choice candidates over the years.

Cutler said the bottom line is: He’s not a one-issue voter or supporter.

He did, however, stress that his own views on abortion have not changed and said Michaud cannot make that claim.

“This is one of many issues where (Michaud) has made a change in his position in recent years,” said Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager. “He has a much longer record of being against choice than he does being for women’s rights.”

The abortion issue has been prominent so far in the 2014 race for governor in Maine and it hasn’t even involved Gov. Paul LePage, the only pro-life candidate.

Instead, Cutler and Michaud have sparred over an issue they agree on.

Cutler, in particular, has been critical of Michaud’s endorsement by pro-choice groups.

David Farmer, Michaud’s senior campaign adviser, said he wasn’t surprised about Cutler’s contributions to pro-life candidates but downplayed the significance.

“He has made a career out of political calculations,” Farmer said. “He was a Washington lobbyist and lawyer for many years. I’m sure he’s supported lots of people we might disagree with.”

Farmer also said Cutler’s campaign has been cherry-picking Michaud’s record.

“If you want to look at his record, fine, but you can’t just stop at 2004 or whenever,” Farmer said.

– Eric Russell

POLIQUIN BECOMES A ‘CONTENDER’

The National Republican Congressional Committee gave Bruce Poliquin, the party’s nominee for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, a boost last week, elevating his status on a list of candidates primed for national support during the 2014 election cycle.

Poliquin, 60, of Oakland, was chosen as the Republican nominee on June 10, with Democrat Emily Cain, 34, of Orono securing a win on the Democratic side. Their general election campaigns have barely begun, aside from the obligatory statements from national Republican and Democratic groups praising one candidate and bashing the other.

The NRCC, the national electioneering arm of House Republicans, raised Poliquin to “contender” status last week – the second of three tiers in its “Young Gun” program, which recruits and aids candidates who have a chance to win in November and elevates them based on benchmarks they meet along the way.

“I am confident that Bruce will continue to work hard for his district and bring sound, conservative principles to Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the NRCC, in a statement.

It’s no surprise that Poliquin’s getting this recognition: Both he and his unsuccessful primary opponent, Kevin Raye, were given “on the radar” status by the NRCC in November. In March, Cain was recognized as a part of a similar Democratic program.

All of this is a signal that the race for the seat is seen as competitive. The Washington Post’s Election Lab, analyzing national factors, gives Republicans a 63 percent chance to capture the 2nd District seat while favoring the party to widen its majority in the House and take the Senate from majority Democrats.

Elections midway through a president’s term usually favor the party opposite the president, but the 2nd District seat, now held by Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, has been held by Democrats since Republican Olympia Snowe was elected to the Senate in 1994. Also, independent conservative Blaine Richardson of Belfast is on the ballot, which could siphon votes from Poliquin.

But the 2nd District hasn’t yet emerged among the top partisan targets: 21 Republican candidates have already reached the “Young Gun” program’s top tier, while Poliquin is one of nine candidates on the second level. Neither the Republican campaign committee nor the Democratic campaign committee has announced television airtime reservations here. Of course, that could change anytime.

Once Poliquin and Cain emerge from their primary honeymoon periods, the campaign will begin in earnest and poll results may start to creep out, enticing national operatives to spend more or less in Maine.

– Michael Shepherd

SHIPYARD UNIONS BACK COLLINS

One week after her opponent began running television ads, Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign hit the airwaves with her own commercial, which appears aimed squarely at a traditional Democratic base: Maine’s labor unions.

In her first ad of the 2014 election, Collins turned to workers and labor leaders at Bath Iron Works to make the pitch for her. All four unions at BIW – Local S6 of the machinists union, Local S7, the Bath Marine Draftsmen Association and the Independent Guards Association – endorsed Collins in April.

While Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows claims to have the backing of more unions, the BIW unions’ endorsement of Collins was a major “get” for the campaign and a first for a Republican candidate at least in recent memory, union officials said at the time. BIW is one of Maine’s largest private employers, with more than 5,400 workers, so it’s certainly not surprising the campaign chose the shipyard for its inaugural ad.

“If it weren’t for Susan Collins we wouldn’t have this work at Bath Iron Works,” Don Bilodeau, president of the Maine State Council of Machinists, said in the 60-second ad.

“Susan Collins has fought for us and fought for our jobs and contracts at the shipyard. And that is why we are going to fight for her,” said Ryan Jones, a machinist at BIW.

By touting her support at BIW, Collins is also attempting to bolster her credentials as a cross-party candidate while tapping into the pride of many Mainers about having one of the world’s premier defense-related shipyards in their backyard. BIW builds Navy destroyers.

As I laid out in a previous Open Season blog post on the BIW endorsement, Collins has been in a position to influence Navy shipbuilding decisions and congressional funding for new ships. She sits on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which helps decide how and where the Pentagon spends its money, and was until last year a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

BIW’s corporate owner, General Dynamics, has donated $10,000 to Collins through the company’s political action committee since her last election in 2008, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Bellows campaign has questioned Collins’ support for organized labor and for workers’ rights. It has also said it expects to receive a substantial number of votes from individual workers at BIW.

“I’m proud to have attracted very strong labor endorsements in this race, and I’ll be a consistent voice for workers in the U.S. Senate,” Bellows said in a written response to the ad. “My opponent, Republican Susan Collins, opposes raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and votes regularly against granting collective bargaining rights to working people. I stand by working Mainers every day, including every man and woman at Bath Iron Works, and I’ll be a proactive leader for their interests in Washington.”

– Kevin Miller

Campaign Notebook is a compilation of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram political blogs, Open Season and Capitol Ticker. Press Herald/Telegram staff writers Steve Mistler, Randy Billings, Eric Russell, Kevin Miller and Matt Byrne and Kennebec Journal reporter Michael Shepherd contribute to the blogs.

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