In 2010, independent Eliot Cutler stood a whisker away from moving into the Blaine House, less than 10,000 votes behind the winner, Waterville’s mayor, Paul LePage.

Four years and $2.5 million later, he’s out of the running, lucky if his final percentage of the vote makes it into double digits. What happened? How did a candidate with so many obvious gifts fall so fast?

It’s not for the usual reasons. There was no scandal. There was no embarrassing gaffe on the campaign trail. He wasn’t out-debated, and he had enough money to get his message out.

What happened was a series of misjudgments about the electorate and the race. His campaign was built around what he wanted to give, not what the voters wanted to get. And while he got a lot of nice compliments about his policy ideas, that never translated into solid support.

It’s too soon to know at this writing if Cutler will have much impact on this race, but we have known for months that he never had any chance to win it.

The first misjudgment came on the day after Election Day 2010, when he conceded to LePage, claiming that his come-from-behind near-win was proof that the public was sick of negative advertising.

That might sound good, but did he really believe that his positive campaign was the reason for his last-minute surge? Common sense and later poll analysis showed that he was the beneficiary of strategic voters who abandoned Democrat Libby Mitchell, terrified by the prospect of a Gov. LePage. Cutler may not have run negative ads, but he sure benefited from the ones Democrats ran against LePage.

Over the next four years, Cutler made rare public appearances in Maine, instead working to start a national nonpartisan political movement.

During this time, Cutler claims he was offered the Democratic nomination, something that Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant denies. No matter what actually transpired between those two, I’ve heard that several people tried to talk Cutler into running as a Democrat. He said he refused because he couldn’t do so without being beholden to special interests, which is nonsense. Sick of LePage, Democrats would have welcomed Cutler on his own terms, and he would have probably been delivering his victory speech Tuesday night.

When Cutler re-emerged a year ago, he announced that he understood that this was a very different race from 2010, and proceeded to unfurl the exact same campaign he ran then, claiming that each party was equally to blame for the state’s problems. That might have been a potent message at one time, but after living through three years of LePage-style government, it didn’t carry the same punch.

Then Cutler failed to answer the biggest question dogging his run for office: How will you avoid being a spoiler?

It’s not a surprise question, he had four years to think about it, but his only response was brave talk about how everyone’s analysis was wrong.

“There are two pieces of conventional wisdom out there that are wrong,” he said in a visit last year with the Press Herald’s editorial board. “One is that Paul will hold on to all the votes he got in 2010. The other is that Mike is a stronger candidate than Libby.” Cutler didn’t buy either one.

In fact, he said that LePage’s support would “crater” and that those voters would move to him. That, of course, never happened. Cutler never budged from a distant third in every poll – even the internal polls his campaign released to show that things weren’t so bleak.

If Cutler was being discussed at all, it was usually about how his candidacy would help LePage, and he became a tool of the governor’s re-election campaign. There was a Republican donation to Cutler’s PAC, Republican TV and mail advertising that supported Cutler over Michaud and – literally – a high-five from the governor.

In fact, LePage not only held on to his votes, but also saw his support grow. And Michaud proved to be not only a stronger candidate than Mitchell, he was also a stronger candidate than Cutler, even if he wasn’t a better debater.

Cutler held an emotional news conference last week, in which he tried to make a lawyerly argument that could save the day, giving his voters permission to leave him if they felt “compelled by fear” but asking them to vote for him anyway.

He spent the last week of the campaign lashing out at his opponents, especially Michaud, who, at times, he derisively referred to as “the forklift driver” who would make a “terrible, destructive governor,” just as bad as LePage.

It’s hard to lose, and most of us do our losing in private. Cutler deserves his privacy now, but for a guy who was supposed to be the smartest one in the race, he got a lot wrong.