On Sept. 21, independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler spoke to an audience of about 50 at the Congregational Church in South Freeport.

His excellent presentation, his command of the issues and his perceptive thoughts on how to address the manifold challenges with which Maine is faced convinced most of us present that he is objectively the best qualified of the current candidates for election as Maine’s next governor.

His repeated assertion that he will be able to harness the recalcitrant partisan blocs of Maine legislators into a working legislative body was less convincing, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt on that. The quality of his ideas and experience gives us reason to hope.

However, his excellent presentation did not dispel the concern that his candidacy is likely to have the effect of facilitating a minority of Maine voters to re-elect our present governor.

Cutler appeals to us to rally behind him to push him to the front of this three-way race, in which he is currently favored by less than 20 percent of the voters. The problem is, if Cutler does garner more support – say, in the 20 percent to 25 percent range – but does not move out ahead of the other candidates, the likely result is another term for the Republican incumbent.

If that outcome is likely, my only choice is to support the Democratic candidate, even though Cutler would likely make a better governor. Conversations with friends and associates convince me that there are many Maine voters who share my predicament.

Cutler has tried to address our concerns by saying that if, on the eve of the election, we are convinced that he cannot win, we are of course free to vote for the best available candidate who can win. The problem is that if he remains a third-place candidate, appealing for voters up to the last minute, the risk that his candidacy will lead to a LePage re-election will continue to be there.

Our predicament would be solved if candidate Cutler were publicly to declare that if, 20 days before the election, responsible polling continues to assess his support at less than, say, 28 percent, he would withdraw from the race so that the next governor would be elected by a majority of Maine voters.

If Cutler would only make such a declaration, voters in my position can enthusiastically throw our support behind his candidacy. We can take our best shot at electing the best qualified governor available, without having to fear that our efforts would be facilitating the election of a candidate whom we really do not want.

Many have said that during the last race for governor, Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell should have dropped out (as the Democratic senatorial candidate in Kansas recently did) in favor of Cutler’s then-candidacy, and that her failure to do so not only gave the incumbent the election, but also consigned her name to oblivion.

If Cutler’s present candidacy blossoms, such a “guts ball” declaration would be emblematic of his courage and public-spiritedness. If the candidacy does not blossom and he has to make good on his promise, his doing so would go strongly to his credit and he would be eligible for future public office, appointive or elective.

Yes, the pros may recoil from such a move as a potential sign of weakness. But is that really true? Isn’t it more likely a sign of strength? As Cutler’s poll numbers are starting to increase, such a declaration would be a challenge to all of us who say we want the best candidate to put our money where our mouths are.

My own sense is that such a declaration would strongly help the Cutler candidacy, and that he has nothing to lose by making it. It would go a long way toward supporting the proposition that Eliot Cutler’s candidacy is based on his desire to do something for the state of Maine and not as much on an overweening personal ego.

Eliot, how about it?

— Special to the Press Herald