And then there were two.

Wednesday, in the annals of Maine political history, will long be remembered as the day Eliot Cutler’s independent candidacy for governor sputtered, choked and stayed barely afloat until, just before sunset, it went belly-up.

“Like Eliot, I too am a realist,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King in a prepared statement late Wednesday afternoon. “After many months considering the issues and getting to know the candidates, it is clear that the voters of Maine are not prepared to elect Eliot in 2014. The good news is that we still have a chance to elect a governor who will represent the majority of Maine people: my friend and colleague Mike Michaud. And today, I’d like to offer him my support.”

Meaning Cutler, whether he likes it or not, is done. And the sooner he looks himself in the mirror and repeats those words, the better chance he’ll have of emerging from this election cycle with at least a shred of his dignity intact.

King’s about-face, almost four years to the day after his initial endorsement of Cutler came within a hair’s breadth of putting the independent in the Blaine House, is a game-changer. It essentially leaves Cutler alone at his helm, still cursing the political currents, albeit to a fading flotilla of lifeboats.

“I am obviously disappointed by Sen. King’s announcement,” said Cutler in a brief statement of his own after King jumped ship. “But as I said in my statement this morning, ‘Anyone who has supported me and worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud – should do so.’ That applies to U.S. Senators as well.”


So ended a day that many had long expected, when Cutler’s fervent belief that he could re-create the near-magic of his 2010 campaign collided head-on with the reality that 2014 is a far cry from 2010. Despite Cutler’s repeated exhortations to “vote your hopes and dreams, not your fears,” the anyone-but-Gov. Paul LePage sentiment this time around coalesced early around Michaud – and steadfastly refused to budge.

Summoned by a terse advisory of an “announcement … regarding the election,” a media horde descended on Cutler’s campaign headquarters in Portland on Wednesday morning fully expecting he was on the verge of withdrawing – or at least suspending his campaign – in the face of poll numbers that show him sinking like a stone.

“I am confident and hopeful, but I am also a realist,” Cutler told the gathering, stoking the anticipation even higher.

But then, rather than gracefully retreat, Cutler ordered full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

“I am not standing down … and neither should those voters whose consciences compel them to cast a vote for me,” he said with his trademark defiance. “I am a realist about my chances, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to kow-tow to party politics and allow a bunch of polls to drown out the voices of thousands of Maine people who believe that standing for principle, ideals and ideas makes you an American and not a spoiler.”

As he spoke, a group of those supporters gathered across town – at the Ocean Gateway terminal, of all places – to announce that they would not go down with the Good Ship Cutler and were instead lining up behind Michaud.


One was longtime Democratic donor Bobby Monks of Cape Elizabeth.

“Bobby Monks was the treasurer of our 2010 campaign until he turned tail and ran in the middle of the campaign,” growled Cutler.

Another was Jim Shaffer, former dean of the University of Southern Maine’s College of Management and Human Service and one-time CEO of Guy Gannett Communications in Portland. He said he’d supported Cutler in 2010 and again this year – until he couldn’t.

“This week I’ve come to a sad conclusion that Eliot isn’t going to win, and if I vote for him, I might be doing damage because Maine can ill afford four more years of Paul LePage,” Shaffer said. “I’m now sporting a Michaud sticker on my car. I’ll vote for him, and I hope you will join me.”

Cutler’s response: “He’s a free person. He’s a free man. He has a free choice. Am I disappointed in him? No.”

Sure he isn’t.


Even as Cutler spoke, his staff handed out hastily prepared dossiers on Shaffer, Monks and a few of the other deserters – all aimed at discrediting them for doing precisely what Cutler now was advising them to do.

Desperate doesn’t begin to describe it. It felt nastier than that.

What made Cutler’s 20-minute press conference so perplexing wasn’t his feistiness, which by now has become legendary throughout Maine. Rather, it was his implication that “the gripping fear that is driving many voters” elsewhere reflects more on their lack of mettle than on his simple inability to retain their loyalty.

At the same time, these very public defections by well-known Mainers, up to and including the perennially popular Angus King, leave the distinct impression that this was part of the deal all along: If Cutler produced in the effort to unseat LePage, they’d stick around. If he didn’t, he was, in effect, fired.

Even now, Cutler can’t – or flat-out refuses to – grasp that. As Maine hurtles toward Election Day, he finds himself in the same kind of free fall that undid Democrat Libby Mitchell back in 2010 – although this one likely has a bottom far lower than Mitchell’s paltry 18.8 percent four years ago.

After Wednesday’s press conference, I sat down briefly with Cutler to ask one final question: Assuming you end up on Tuesday right where the polls say you’re now headed, how would you like to be remembered?


“First of all, I can’t control how I’m remembered entirely,” Cutler replied. “I want to be remembered for my integrity, as I remember my father. I want to be remembered for believing in democracy completely – and I mean completely. I want to be remembered for being committed to reform, to fixing what’s broken both in the state of Maine and in our political processes. I want to be remembered for honesty and for independence – and I mean that.”

Indeed he does.

The problem is that from Day One, Cutler seemingly has operated on the premise that when it’s all said and done, this race is about him.

It isn’t. It’s about Paul LePage.

And hard as it may be for Eliot Cutler to fathom, those lifeboats are now headed for Mike Michaud.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.