AUGUSTA, Maine — Gubernatorial front-runner Paul LePage appears to be gaining momentum in the race for the Blaine House according to new reports that show the Republican nominee widening his lead and raising more money than most of his rivals.
In the latest sampling of voter sentiment, LePage enjoyed an 18-point advantage over his nearest competitor, Democrat Libby Mitchell.
LePage was the candidate of choice for 45 percent of the 500 likely voters who participated in the Rasmussen Reports’ latest automated telephone poll, conducted on Sept. 20. Mitchell was polling at 27 percent while independent Eliot Cutler garnered 14 percent.
Four percent of respondents said they favored “other candidates” while 10 percent were undecided. Two other independent candidates — Kevin Scott and Shawn Moody — are on the November ballot, but the Rasmussen poll did not mention them by name.
The gap between the two race leaders has more than doubled since the last Rasmussen poll conducted in early August.
LePage’s gains came despite subsequent press reports of an investigation into tax benefits his family received in Maine and Florida. Democrats had hoped the tax controversy would cut into the front-runner’s support.
In Rasmussen’s August poll, LePage had 38 percent support compared to 30 percent for Mitchell. Cutler has dropped 2 percentage points since August.
As a result of LePage’s gains, the national polling firm changed its prediction for the Maine gubernatorial race from “leans GOP” to “solid GOP.”
Rasmussen’s results also largely mirror the findings of a larger poll, conducted in early September by Public Policy Polling, that had LePage at 43 percent and Mitchell at 29 percent. A more recent survey by Critical Insights of Portland showed LePage ahead of Mitchell 38 percent to 25 percent.
LePage spokesman John Morris indicated that the campaign is not letting up.
“We feel we still have a lot of work to do, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands of additional taxpayer dollars in public funding that Libby has yet to spend,” Morris said.
Morris’ reference was to more than $580,000 in Clean Elections Act funding that Mitchell still had in the bank as the race entered the final month and a half, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed this week with the Maine Ethics Commission.
But those reports also show that LePage, who handily won the GOP primary on a relative shoe-string budget, is hauling in cash contributions at a faster pace than any of the other privately financed candidates.
LePage brought in nearly $400,000 in contributions between mid-July and mid-September, ending the period with more than $530,000 in the bank. Campaign finance reports show LePage spent the bulk of his money on staff and consulting fees.
Cutler collected $157,000 in new donations and had $122,000 remaining at the end of the period thanks, in part, to sizable loans he has made to his campaign. Cutler spent the majority of his money on television and print ads, staff salaries and promotional materials.
Moody collected roughly $30,000 in contributions and still had $151,000 to spend while Scott collected just $8,700 in new donations and had a cash balance of $3,700.
Because Mitchell is participating in Maine’s public campaign financing system, she is prohibited from receiving donations from private individuals or organizations.
Mitchell received roughly $223,000 in Maine Clean Election Act funding during the period, bringing her total for the general election campaign to more than $800,000 with the potential to receive an additional $400,000 in matching funds.
The five candidates have spent a combined total of $3 million on the campaign so far, which is on par with other Maine gubernatorial races at this stage. Spending by all the candidates who participated in the Democratic and Republican primaries totaled $7.5 million.
Michael Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College, said the figures may seem high for Maine voters, but they are dwarfed by what’s spent in larger states where advertising, especially on television, costs more. In the California gubernatorial race, for example, Republican Meg Whitman has spent $119 million of her own money alone.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.