AUGUSTA, Maine — Eliot Cutler, an independent who finished a close second to Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2010, confirmed Thursday morning that he plans to run for governor in 2014.
When asked by WGAN radio morning show host Mike Violette if he’s running for governor in 2014, Cutler replied, “I am.” Cutler, who has filed as a candidate with the Maine Ethics Commission, said it would be “disingenuous” to deny that he’s running and that he would make a formal announcement after Labor Day.
“You guys have been pressing me for months to announce on your show. I figured I couldn’t make a formal announcement on your show, but I can announce that I will announce,” Cutler said.
He rebuffed the suggestion that his candidacy would split liberal and moderate votes, resulting in LePage’s re-election.
“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think I could win a three-way race,” Cutler said.
In an email issued later Thursday morning, Cutler, a lawyer and former Democrat, wrote, “While we will wait to make a formal announcement until after Labor Day, I can tell you now that I fully intend to be a candidate, and we are hard at work laying the groundwork for a winning campaign.”
The email also touted the campaign’s recent fundraising and listed the names of key campaign staff. Ted O’Meara, a former Maine Republican Party chairman who ran Cutler’s campaign in 2010, will again serve as campaign manager. Brandon Maheu, who worked for Democratic Party candidates in past elections, will serve as field director. Justin Schair and Kaitlin LaCasse, who worked for the 2010 campaign, will return as deputy campaign managers. Jean Gulliver and Marion Freeman will lead the campaign’s finance committee and Emily Cramer will work as field and fundraising coordinator.
LePage has filed with the Maine Ethics Commission as a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, but he has not formally announced that he’ll seek re-election. However, he has given no indication that he won’t and his comments in recent weeks hint that he’ll run again.
LePage’s top political adviser, Brent Littlefield, responded quickly Thursday with a statement that downplayed the significance of Cutler’s announcements.
“A yawn could describe the public’s reaction to Eliot Cutler’s words today,” Littlefield said. “This is not a secret. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on his campaign, and on other exploits like One Maine, it is clear that politician Eliot Cutler could not give up on his personal dream of becoming governor.”
Without the need to establish name recognition, as was the case in 2010, and without a prominent Democrat in the gubernatorial race at this time, Cutler’s and LePage’s unofficial campaigns can open fire directly at each other.
During Thursday’s radio appearance, Cutler said “no one in Maine” is more opposed to LePage’s re-election than he is. Littlefield’s statement Thursday portrayed Cutler as a politician dependent on “Washington liberal lobbyists” to fund his campaign.
“We know who is pulling politician Eliot Cutler’s strings,” Littlefield said. “Independent is not the word to describe politician Eliot Cutler.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd District, has said he’s pondering a gubernatorial run and is considered the party’s strongest potential candidate. Former Gov. John Baldacci also has expressed interest in seeking the office again if Michaud does not run.
Baldacci kept his name before the public Thursday by announcing that he would host a spaghetti supper to benefit Lewiston fire victims on June 12. A release announcing the supper noted that when Baldacci previously ran for office, he held spaghetti suppers around the state to benefit local charities.
In Thursday’s email, Cutler touted two polls released earlier this year that show him to be “the leading alternative” to LePage. Democrats, who said one of the surveys conflicted with their internal polling and that the other failed to provide an objective preview of the race because it compared LePage and Cutler to an unnamed Democrat, disagreed.
“Eliot Cutler is never going to be the governor of Maine, so it doesn’t matter if he announces today, this fall or next year,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said in an email. “I predict that the polling will be crystal clear this fall that Cutler has no viable pathway to win the race, and that he will then do the right thing and decline to run — which he has promised to do if he can’t win.”
Cutler’s informal announcement buys him some spotlight at a time when sparring between LePage and Democrats in the Legislature places both parties in a generally negative light. Cutler weighed in Thursday on some of the key State House conflicts, saying that he would sign a Democrat-sponsored bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in Maine as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act and suggesting that, as governor, he would hold hospitals more accountable for their role in driving up health care costs.