Not all political endorsements are created equal. Their ability to influence voter opinion, media, fundraising and on-the-ground organizing varies greatly depending on the individual or entity involved, as well as the resources they bring to bear.

So will U.S. Senator Angus King’s endorsement move the political needle for Eliot Cutler? The answer is: maybe.

Certainly King’s endorsement is as coveted as any available to the Blaine House aspirants. King is respected across demographic groups, appeals to voters throughout the political spectrum frustrated with endemic partisan strife, and is seen as a statesmanlike politician in the mold of Muskie, Mitchell and Cohen. His imprimatur is relevant and meaningful.

Perhaps the only more sought-after political endorsement would be former Sen. Olympia Snowe’s. But that already – and quite incongruously – belongs to Gov. LePage.

Regardless, it’s rare that any single endorsement substantively affects the overall trajectory of a race, particularly at the state level. It’s typically more advantageous to receive endorsements from a diverse assortment of individuals and organizations that can influence discreet demographic and issue-oriented voter groups.

It’s an open question, then, whether King’s endorsement of Cutler will be meaningful in any measurable way.


The truth is, most endorsements are only have an impact if they come with time, money, personnel, or can create or sustain a sense of momentum.

King simply saying, “I endorse Eliot” isn’t enough. King even acknowledged as much Monday saying, he’s under no “illusions that the people of Maine were sitting at home today saying, ‘Who is Angus going to tell us to vote for?'”

King’s endorsement can only affect the arc of the race if he throws his entire political heft behind Cutler.

Primarily, that involves King’s time. He must be out stumping with Cutler from now through Election Day, continuously affirming his belief that Eliot possesses the best ideas and is the most qualified candidate.

Equally important is King’s willingness to appear in TV, radio and digital ads, as well as direct mail and fundraising pieces. Those efforts reach a broader swath of the electorate than any joint campaign events or press releases.

King must also leverage his own supporter and donor list to raise money and recruit volunteers for Cutler. That will boost Cutler’s fundraising and organizational capacity, something he desperately needs when competing against the machinery of the major party candidates.


Finally, King could lend his key staffers to Cutler in the final weeks of the campaign to manage get out the vote efforts in critical bellwether communities. Whether King will go to those lengths remains to be seen, but the ultimate significance of his endorsement hinges on whether he’ll pull all, some or none of those levers for Cutler.

As for the timing of the endorsement, it’s unlikely to create or sustain a wave, coming – as it does – in the final throws of summer.

The truth is, Cutler simply couldn’t afford to allow the established political narrative to become fixed heading into Labor Day: a razor-thin, two-man race between Michaud and LePage with Cutler more apt to play the role of “spoiler” than ascend to “contender.”

Cutler needed to make a big move and King was the strongest hand the campaign could play. The timing reflects a perfectly appropriate sense of anxiety amongst Team Cutler.

As for King, the political risks are reasonably low. His popularity is high and he’s not up for re-election until 2018. Voters are unlikely to remember that he backed a complete loser, single-handedly revived a moribund campaign or delivered four more years of Governor LePage.

What’s more, by endorsing Cutler, King validates his own independent bona fides, demonstrating his belief in the value of independent leadership, while acknowledging that working with Democrats (with whom he caucuses) and Republicans (like Susan Collins, who he also endorsed) is indispensable to getting things done.


Finally, by endorsing while Cutler polls in the mid-teens, King is rejecting the strategic voting parlor game and urging voters to simply cast their lot with the most qualified candidate. Some voters may follow his lead and give Cutler a shot in the arm.

But King likely underestimates the pervasive and intense fear surrounding the prospect of another LePage term. Voting for the most qualified candidate works fine in a vacuum. But voters are unlikely to take that risk unless and until Cutler rises dramatically in the polls.

Four years ago, King leapt on the Cutler train as it was roaring out of the station. This time, the question is whether King can single-handedly fire up the engine and get it chugging again.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Boston, Mass., and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, DC. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter @CuzziMJ.

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