AUGUSTA, Maine — Two new polls released Thursday show that Republican Paul LePage has reclaimed a significant lead in Maine’s gubernatorial contest but that independent Eliot Cutler has continued to pick up support in the final days before the election.
The two polls were conducted separately by different survey firms but reached nearly identical conclusions about a race that has seen significant swings in recent weeks.
LePage continues to lead the five-person race for the Blaine House, winning support from 40 percent of participants in surveys conducted by Rasmussen Reports and Public Policy Polling.
Both surveys suggest that Cutler’s campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks, however.
While Rasmussen showed Cutler dead even with Democrat Libby Mitchell at 26 percent each, the PPP survey placed Cutler at 28 percent and Mitchell at 24 percent.
Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott picked up 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively, in the PPP survey. Rasmussen did not specifically name Moody or Scott, but 4 percent of participants said they would support “some other candidate.”
Both surveys suggested that the ranks of undecided voters were much smaller than in other recent polls, down to 5 percent in Rasmussen and 2 percent in PPP.
Although LePage consistently has led the pack in virtually all surveys, different polling firms have reached sometimes starkly different conclusions about his level of support, the gap between the GOP candidate and his two biggest rivals, and the number of undecided voters.
In their analysis of the poll, PPP pointed out that LePage continues as the clear front-runner in their surveys despite the fact that 51 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of him — nearly the same percentage as in the Rasmussen poll.
Cutler, meanwhile, earned the highest “favorability” marks among the candidates: 46 percent in PPP and 57 percent in the Rasmussen survey.
“But because [LePage] has a relatively unified conservative base while Democratic-leaning voters are splitting almost evenly between Mitchell and Cutler, he’s in a position to win without coming anywhere close to 50% of the vote,” reads the PPP analysis.
Dan Demeritt, spokesman for the LePage campaign, said his candidate’s message continues to resonate with voters.
“Poll after poll shows that Paul’s ‘People Before Politics’ campaign is uniting voters hungry for change,” Demeritt said in an e-mail. “Now, we must double our efforts and turn out Paul’s vote.”
On Thursday, LePage opted to spend the afternoon and evening campaigning rather than attend the second-to-last televised gubernatorial debate, hosted by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
LePage withdrew from the forum late Wednesday afternoon, prompting strong criticism from his opponents and the Maine Democratic Party, who suggested the decision stemmed more from political reasons than a desire to campaign.
The decision also opened the door for his rivals — most notably Cutler — to point out his absence during the only debate broadcast statewide.
Additional poll results are expected to be released today headed into the final weekend of campaigning.