BANGOR, Maine — The first post-primary gubernatorial poll in Maine shows Republican nominee Paul LePage starting the general election campaign with a 7-point lead over Democrat Libby Mitchell, with independent Eliot Cutler showing single-digit support.
LePage, who easily won a seven-way GOP primary on Tuesday, had the backing of 43 percent of likely voters who participated in a poll conducted June 10 by Rasmussen Reports. Mitchell, who won a four-way Democratic primary, was next at 36 percent, followed by Cutler with 7 percent.
Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, who also are running for governor as independents, were not featured in the poll. The poll of 500 likely voters also showed 14 percent undecided. The margin of error was 4.5 percent.
“My first thought is that it’s very bad news for Cutler,” said Christian Potholm, professor of government at Bowdoin College. “All that foolishness that there is this room in the middle would be true if there were weak candidates in one or both parties. Mitchell and LePage are both strong candidates.”
Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine, was less committal about the poll.
“I’d say that a single poll done over the course of one day months before the election doesn’t tell you terribly much, and Rasmussen does tend to have a Republican lean,” Fried said.
The party breakdown of the Rasmussen poll appears to show even better news for LePage, and also concern for Mitchell and Cutler, a longtime Democratic party activist viewed as the strongest of three independents.
Eighty-two percent of GOP voters plan to support LePage, compared to 67 percent of Democrats who plan to back Mitchell. Among voters not enrolled in either party, 44 percent picked LePage, 24 percent Mitchell and 10 percent Cutler.
“We’re obviously pleased with the numbers, but it’s very early,” said Brent Littlefield, strategic consultant for the LePage campaign. “But it’s clear that his message, his personal life story and his record of reforming government in Waterville is resonating with voters.”
Fried said LePage’s message could bring out conservative voters — but also Democrats.
“I think LePage could drive turnout on both sides. He’s very conservative,” Fried said. “Mitchell is a mainstream Democrat, but I wouldn’t label LePage mainstream.”
Attempts to reach the Mitchell and Cutler campaigns about the poll results on Friday were unsuccessful.
Mitchell edged LePage among female voters, but LePage held a double-digit lead among male voters.
LePage had a slight edge in the number of voters who had a favorable opinion of him, according to the poll. Twenty-five percent viewed the Waterville mayor very favorably while 9 percent had a very unfavorable opinion of him. For Mitchell, the longtime legislator and Senate president, 22 percent viewed her very favorably and 18 percent had a very unfavorable opinion.
Three percent of voters had a very favorable opinion of Cutler, while 7 percent viewed him very unfavorably, although the poll also showed that 46 percent of Maine voters didn’t know enough about Cutler to form any kind of opinion of him.
With the focus now on the general election, the independent Cutler launched his first television advertisement Friday, according to campaign spokesman Ted O’Meara, who said it was well-received.
Shawn Moody also debuted on TV this week, funding the media buy with $100,000 of his own money.
Kevin Scott, with limited funding, has even a greater challenge in building name recognition. This week, he called on his fellow unenrolled candidates to participate in a publicly broadcast “Debate of Independents.”
“The primaries are over. … Now is time for Maine’s 385,000 unenrolled voters to have a chance to see their candidates debate early in the campaign season,” Scott said.