BANGOR, Maine — Buoyed by new polling data and a steady flow of campaign cash, independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler on Tuesday opened headquarters in the city where he grew up.
“This is home,” he said to a crowd of about 50 people inside an office at 73 Central St. in downtown Bangor. “This is a city of profound and important memories for me.”
Cutler also took heart in a poll conducted earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports showing him nearly doubling his support in the last month. Among 500 likely voters polled on July 14, Cutler had 15 percent support, up from 7 percent in the same poll conducted in June. His major challengers — Republican Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell — both have seen their support decrease.
But LePage is still the front-runner with 39 percent support. That is down from 43 percent in June. Mitchell has dropped from 36 percent to 31 percent. Three percent favored some other candidate, and 12 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.
“I am moving and they know it,” Cutler said in an interview shortly after the grand opening in Bangor.
Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said it’s still early in the race to put much weight on one poll, but he gave Cutler credit.
“Honestly, that number is pretty strong for Cutler at this point; it’s higher than I anticipated,” Brewer said. “But I don’t think the average person starts to pay attention until after Labor Day. There is plenty of time.”
LePage, mayor of Waterville, handily won a seven-person Republican primary in June, and Mitchell, president of the state Senate and a longtime fixture in Maine government, came out ahead in a four-way Democratic race. Cutler, a one-time Democrat who worked for President Jimmy Carter, is seen as the strongest of three in-dependents in the race. Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott are the others.
Cutler also has been among the strongest candidates financially. He has raised $741,000 to date, including $450,000 of his own money, according to campaign spokesman Ted O’Meara. As of July 13, which marked the end of the reporting period, Cutler — who already has launched a major TV buy — had only about $67,000 left in the bank.
That cash on hand is a far cry from that of Mitchell, who is publicly funded through the Maine Clean Elections Act. She has approximately $640,000 in cash, according to her spokesman.
The LePage campaign reported about $260,000 cash on hand, which includes a loan of $70,000 from the candidate.
Moody’s campaign, funded almost exclusively through a $500,000 loan from the candidate, announced Tuesday that it had more than $352,000 in cash. Scott had about $3,000 in cash at the end of the reporting period.
Cutler’s Bangor office on Central Street is an oft-used spot for political campaign headquarters. In 2008, it was the local Democratic office for Barack Obama. Mitchell and LePage have yet to open offices in Bangor.
Richard Stone, chairman of the Bangor City Council and Cutler’s cousin, was on hand to help the candidate open the office.
“A lot of people can say there are problems, but it takes a rare individual to get people together and solve those problems,” said Stone, who supported Cutler individually and not on behalf of the City Council. “I think Eliot can do it.”
During a brief speech at the event, Cutler painted his opponents as representing the flanks of their respective parties but said Maine’s political strength is in the middle.
“That’s where I am,” he said. “We can be the comeback state of the next decade. It would be wrong to squander that opportunity.”
Brewer agreed that Cutler’s best chance is to court the political middle.
“Cutler can take votes from both sides, but I think he’s more likely to take from Republicans because LePage is further right than Mitchell is left,” Brewer said.
In the poll, LePage carried 78 percent of Republican votes while Mitchell captured 52 percent of Democrats. Despite Brewer’s analysis, Cutler had 20 percent Democratic support and 5 percent GOP support. Among voters not affiliated with either major party, LePage had 41 percent support to Mitchell’s 18 percent and Cutler’s 16 percent.
Brewer said Cutler’s increased support combined with the high percentage of undecideds suggests there are plenty of Mainers who are not in love with either of the major party candidates.