AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s race for governor, which has been heavy on light issues and light on the heavier ones over the summer, is entering the post-Labor Day home stretch with the candidates ready to turn up the volume and voters ready to listen.
What started out as a packed race with more than two dozen contestants is now down to five candidates, who have been sharpening their pitches as they make the state fair scene, address civic groups, attend forums and seek to separate themselves from their rivals.
“We are very busy, every day. Some days may find us going to six events,” said Paul LePage’s campaign manager, John Morris. “The level of excitement and commitment will just intensify as we get closer to the elections.”
The Republican faces Democrat Libby Mitchell and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott on Nov. 2. Between now and then, there will be hundreds of campaign events, including roughly 40 debates and forums.
Cutler spokesman Ted O’Meara sees voter interest coming in waves. The first includes political junkies and those who vote in primaries. Between Labor Day and mid-October the bulk of voters learn about the candidates. The final wave, said O’Meara, includes voters who wait until the last minute to pay attention.
The campaign’s clearly entering the second stage now, O’Meara said. “You can really feel it. The volume of calls and e-mails is up, more and more people recognize (Cutler).”
Mitchell said the campaign pace wouldn’t pick up for her after Labor Day because she’s been out straight since June 9, the day after she won a four-way primary, taking only one day off from campaigning. “I don’t think that’s possible,” Mitchell said when asked if her schedule would get busier.
Moody said he too has been campaigning full-time since June 9.
Looking ahead, he sees a shift in focus from southern Maine, where he believes his auto-repair chain has given him name recognition, to other parts of the state where’s he’s not that well-known.
While candidates have tried to get out their messages through debates, forums, their websites and media interviews, most of the attention so far has been on side issues or non-issues, such as LePage’s comments on Mitchell’s age (70), Mitchell’s refusal to participate in a forum to which two independents weren’t invited, and pokes at LePage by Mitchell’s Democratic surrogates.
But in between the potshots and platitudes, some solid ideas and proposals have emerged.
Cutler wants to eliminate Maine’s annual motor vehicle inspection program, and has come out with an education plan that includes establishing charter schools, extending the school year, rewarding teacher performance and merging the university and community college systems.
LePage wants general assistance recipients to be required to work in community service in exchange for benefits. Scott would offer state workers a 32-hour work week to cut government costs.
Moody would redirect economic development money away from out-of-state businesses and more to businesses that are already in Maine. Mitchell, whose policy advisers are honing her proposals, said she planned to roll out the specifics on issues like reforming government and business regulation after Labor Day.
“We have never deviated from the issues,” said Scott. “We’ve always stayed focused on the issues and the issues are the economy and the size and cost of state government.”