A few weeks of “rough news cycles” for Republican Paul LePage have turned off enough voters to make the five-way race for the governor’s office a dead heat between himself and Democrat Libby Mitchell, a statewide poll released Saturday shows.
A Pine Tree Politics/Maine Center for Public Opinion gubernatorial survey of 679 likely voters conducted Oct. 4-7 found that ardor for the LePage campaign has cooled, said Matt Gagnon, one of the three primary contributors to the center-right-leaning Pine Tree political blog, which paid the center to do the poll.
Survey results place LePage, at 29.6 percent, a fraction ahead of Mitchell at 28.7 percent, while 11.1 percent of those polled preferred independent Eliot Cutler. Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott drew 4.9 and 1.6 percent, respectively. Allowing for a typical margin of error makes the LePage-Mitchell contest a tossup, Gagnon said.
“It could be anybody’s race,” Gagnon said Saturday.
But that doesn’t mean that if elections were held today, Mitchell has enough momentum to make her Maine’s next governor, or that Cutler is out of it. According to the poll, a whopping 24.1 percent of the electorate remains undecided, the “biggest story” of the survey, Gagnon said.
“We have seen in the last few weeks some people moving away from LePage, but they haven’t moved toward anyone else,” Gagnon said. “A lot of responses we got, even the live responses that came with some of the people we interviewed, show that [LePage’s recent controversy] has made them iffy about him. But I am not sure if the other options are all that appealing to people.”
Among those voters sure of their choice, 80.4 percent strongly favored LePage, with 19.6 percent leaning toward voting for him. Mitchell drew 71 percent who described themselves as strong for the Democrat and 29 percent leaning, which Gagnon said showed that her support base is still soft.
“I still would say LePage has the advantage because people are more solidly behind him than other candidates,” Gagnon said, “but if Cutler can find some way to get in the race, it could be his.”
LePage drew national attention over the last few weeks, and not in a good way, by telling a reporter to “stop the bullshit” and telling a group of lobstermen at a fundraiser that he’d tell President Barack Obama to go to hell.
The statements caused LePage to say last week that he needs to present more of his kinder, gentler side to voters.
Yet Mitchell has been unable to capitalize on all of LePage’s troubles, Gagnon said. She has consistently been polling in the 20 percent to 30 percent range and been hurt more by Cutler’s candidacy than has LePage.
Cutler is pulling nearly twice as many Democrats away from Mitchell, 15 percent of voters, as he is pulling Republicans away from LePage, 8.7 percent.
The challenge remaining for LePage and Mitchell, Gagnon said, is to turn those who lean for them into those who would vote in their favor while capturing as many undecided voters as possible.
Arden Manning, campaign manager of the Maine Democratic Party, said he took the poll results with some skepticism.
“This is a poll paid for by Republicans and admittedly oversamples Republicans but despite their best efforts, this poll does still show a tight race in the governor’s race, a dead heat,” he said Sunday. “I can say that I have serious questions about a poll that is this closely tied to the Republican Party and that has admitted problems and oversamples Republican voters.”