LePage fundraising slows as Cutler, Michaud trumpet energy ‘to change the leadership in Augusta’

Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage
Posted July 16, 2013, at 12:32 a.m.
Last modified July 16, 2013, at 10:37 a.m.
Eliot Cutler
Eliot Cutler
US. Rep. Mike Michaud
US. Rep. Mike Michaud

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two candidates preparing to face off against incumbent Republican Paul LePage in the 2014 governor’s race raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first half of 2013, while LePage saw his fundraising efforts slip.

LePage raised $123,000 in the first half of 2013, bringing his total amount raised since 2011 to $339,000. That six-month total is down from the $135,000 LePage raised in the last half of 2012.

Independent Eliot Cutler, who lost against LePage in the last election by fewer than 10,000 votes, raised more than $430,000 since his first $500 contribution on Jan. 31. Democrat Mike Michaud, who currently represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, raised $314,000 since June 12, according to financial reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.

LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield said Tuesday morning the decline in fundraising is due to a law prohibiting many officials, including the governor, from accepting donations from lobbyists or companies that employ lobbyists while the Legislature is in session.

LePage’s totals also do not include a July 2 fundraiser during which the governor announced his plans to run for re-election.

Both Michaud and Cutler, neither of whom have formally entered the race for governor, started trumpeting their fundraising totals as soon as the reporting period closed July 1. LePage, meanwhile, waited until just an hour before the midnight July 15 deadline before filing his disclosures.

Michaud boasted that his donations were amassed in just the 17 days after announcing his plans to form an exploratory gubernatorial campaign and said he took the fundraising numbers as encouragement that many Mainers want him to unseat LePage after his first term.

“There’s a lot of energy in Maine to change the leadership in Augusta,” Michaud said in a written statement.

Cutler, who has been circulating campaign messages for months and last month told a Portland radio station that he plans to announce his candidacy formally after Labor Day, had a similar take on his total, though he included Democrats in his criticism.

“This campaign is all about whether Maine remains hopelessly stuck with the current administration, goes backwards to the Baldacci years or moves forward with the strong, independent leadership that I can provide,” he said in a written statement.

Littlefield told the Bangor Daily News two weeks ago that he expects the governor to be outspent during this campaign, just as he was during the 2010 race. He reiterated that statement Monday.

“The governor was heavily outspent in the last campaign when taking in account spending by all groups,” Littlefield wrote Monday in an email. “We expect a very competitive campaign focused on the dropping unemployment rate and the governor’s success in fixing a broken budget. All indications are there will be no moving trucks visiting the Blaine House in January 2015.”

Though the campaign has yet to begin in earnest, others weren’t so sure about LePage’s prospects.

Stu Rothenberg, a blogger for a Washington, D.C.-based publication called Roll Call, responded to Michaud’s and Cutler’s presumed entrance into the race by moving Maine’s gubernatorial race from a “Pure Tossup” to “Tossup/Tilt Democrat.”

“This race looks like it is trending away from the GOP,” wrote Rothberg on July 10.

Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake, who write for a Washington Post blog called “The Fix,” also had troubling news for LePage. They ranked LePage as the third-most likely governor in the nation to lose a bid for re-election. That was a slight improvement from a previous post in which The Fix wrote that LePage was the second-most endangered governor.

“The only thing that is keeping hope alive for LePage is the presence of independent candidate Eliot Cutler, which will trigger a three-way race that is also expected to include Rep. Mike Michaud,” Sullivan and Blake wrote on July 12. “But Michaud looks like a superior candidate to 2010 Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell, which is troubling for LePage.”

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, tried to make that point — and differentiate Michaud from Cutler — by sending out a Twitter message noting that Michaud had raised more campaign donations from Maine in 17 days than Cutler had in six months.

Cutler’s campaign countered with a release asserting that 68 percent of Cutler’s contributors are from Maine, 46.8 percent of that amount was raised after Michaud formed his exploratory committee and that the total does not include any cash contributions from the candidate or from political action committees.

Littlefield also tried to contrast LePage with the men who are likely to be his two chief rivals.

“Paul LePage is not a politician, he is a successful businessman who chose to run for governor and help fix the economy,” Littlefield wrote, describing Michaud as someone who has “spent thirty-plus years begging for campaign contributions” and Cutler as a man who “has spent now five years running for governor.”

A handful of other candidates for governor are also collecting donations. Independent Lee Schultheis of Freeport reported donating $5,000 to his own campaign and spending $1,600; Green Independent David Slagger of Kenduskeag raised a total of $400, of which $250 came from himself and his spouse; and Democrat Stephen Woods of Yarmouth reported loaning his own campaign $50,000.

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