A sputtering economic recovery, major manufacturing sector closures, a shrinking labor force, looming demographic winter, stagnating wages and rising energy costs. These are just a few of the enormous social and economic challenges facing the next governor.

They also reflect the extraordinarily consequential choice voters will face in little more than two weeks.

I wrote not long ago that these problems – individually and collectively – cry out for transformative political leadership or “we’ll continue to simply muddle along, confined to tepid growth even as our demographic and economic challenges gradually exceed our ability to overcome them.”

Nine months later, no candidate has demonstrated the political or leadership ability to offer a dramatically new direction for Maine or rally voters around their vision.

This is partly the result of political campaigning in the modern era, where poll-tested messaging not only constrains candor and boldness, it dumbs down our discourse.

It’s also a product of the campaigns themselves, which too frequently focus on horse race and scandal – endorsements, polling, fundraising, debates, rap lyrics and secret recordings – than substantive or transformative policy proposals.


The campaigns understand, regrettably, that the more substance you put “out there” for public consumption, the more ammunition you provide to your adversaries and the more risk you assume.

It’s also a function of the challengers who, despite the enormity of our issues and the desperate need to unseat the governor, too frequently strike the tenor of an arrogant academician or an affable everyman.

Independent Eliot Cutler has some unique policy ideas and arguably demonstrates the most “vision” for Maine. But his campaign repeatedly gets sucked into the wormhole of process issues, derailing his message and diminishing his candidacy.

Cutler is consistently strongest when he talks about his experience in the private sector, knowledge of the global economy and ability to create jobs. Why those aren’t the centerpiece of his candidacy, messaging and paid advertising is confounding.

Voters aren’t interested in evaluating the number, frequency and location of debates. They don’t care that Democrat Mike Michaud took money from “the sugar lobby.” They’re not interested in the minutia of property tax reform. And they don’t necessarily even care that Cutler “has a plan.”

Instead, they want to understand what four years of Cutler actually means for them and their family. They want to know where Cutler might take us, how he’ll get us there and if we’ll be better off than today.


For his part, Michaud is a naturally understated candidate, more inclined to work behind the scenes than seek the limelight. His blue-collar biography is a testament to his orientation as a work horse, rather than a show horse.

Even so, Michaud’s campaign is overly cautious, an oddity given that he’s immersed in the political fight of his career.

We know Mike’s likable. We know he can “bring people together.” We know he is a reliable supporter of traditional Democratic policies. including raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and growing renewable energy resources.

There is great value in those things, but it’s unclear if they can mobilize an electorate in a turnout election. It’s also unclear if bolder, more transformative policies are lurking somewhere, subsumed by a deliberate and unyielding “make no mistakes” campaign approach.

If that’s the case, it’s time to let Mike be bold … in addition to likable.

Finally, we know Gov. LePage is full of passion of a sort, typically ideologically driven and frequently tinged with anger. The result is a divisive, obdurate candidate unable to expand the Republican governor’s appeal beyond a dedicated core of supporters.


His propensity toward controversy and untruth requires that his campaign keep him away from any regular public scrutiny, even to the point of suggesting he might not participate in scheduled debates.

To the extent he possesses a “vision” for Maine, it is more rooted in ideological projection than fact. Tellingly, the governor has not put forth any plan or blueprint for the next four years. Instead, we can assume they might be a replay of the last four, only with LePage unhinged from any moderating re-election influence.

Even so, there is an urgency, frustration and determination in LePage’s public appearances that reflects the mood of many voters. In these waning weeks, Cutler and Michaud would do well to coax some similar fire and passion out of their own bellies.

I’m loath to make predictions, but it seems “muddling” will prevail on Election Day, no matter who wins.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ

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