AUGUSTA, Maine — The five candidates for governor will be canvassing the state for votes this weekend, shaking hands and delivering stump speeches as a campaign dominated by concerns about job security and economic development enters its final days.
Recent polls suggest that Republican Paul LePage continues to lead the chase for the Blaine House. But independent Eliot Cutler appears to be gaining momentum even as former President Bill Clinton returns to
Maine in hopes of energizing Democrats behind Libby Mitchell. Here is an update on each of the contenders and the paths they’ve taken during the campaign:
In mid-October, despite a bevy of positive television advertising and months of debates, Eliot Cutler was still stuck in third place in public opinion polls.
Asked whether he was concerned, Cutler said no and repeated his campaign’s contention that Mainers weren’t as satisfied with the major party candidates as the surveys suggested. “Those are ‘soft’ voters,” said Cutler, an independent. “And a week in October is equal to three months in the summer.”
Two and a half weeks later, Cutler’s standing in most polls has more than doubled, putting him in second in the five-way race. Cutler of Cape Elizabeth entered the governor’s race as both a political outsider and as someone with roots in Maine’s Democratic Party going back to the late Sen. Edmund Muskie. A Bangor native, Cutler studied at top universities and later had a successful career as an attorney at one of the world’s largest legal and lobbying firms in Washington, D.C.
Along the way, Cutler helped shape the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act as a young staffer for Muskie and worked in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. But he said he left the Maine Democratic Party around 2005 over issues of fiscal management and a perception that the party was too beholden to unions and other groups.
Cutler’s lengthy resume has become both an asset and a liability in his bid for the Blaine House. While Cutler has touted his experience working in complex regulatory environments and on the international business stage as great qualities for a governor, his opponents have attempted to portray him as an out-of-touch former Mainer whose business dealings with China hurt U.S. workers.
Throughout the campaign, Cutler has offered the most detailed policy plans of the five candidates. His campaign priorities focus heavily on rebuilding Maine’s economy by reducing energy and health care costs,
trimming the size and cost of government and bringing down what he calls the regulatory “wall of no” facing businesses.
Most recent polls show Cutler surpassing Democrat Libby Mitchell as the chief challenger to Republican Paul LePage. He has also been endorsed by most of Maine’s major newspapers.
An unabashed conservative running in a moderate state, Republican Paul LePage has surprised many observers by consistently leading the pack of gubernatorial hopefuls, often by wide margins. Beginning in the GOP primary and continuing into the general election, LePage has tapped into voter anger and frustration with a campaign platform focused on reducing the size and scope of government while making Maine friendlier to businesses.
And while he is often labeled a “tea party” favorite, LePage’s strong performance in the polls in a state where both Democrats and unenrolled voters outnumber Republicans shows he has the support of a broader base than his opponents portray.
“I’m not a centrist; I’m a doer,” he told the BDN back in the spring. “You’ve got to find common ground. You’ve got to get the job done.”
Homeless at 11, LePage worked his way up to become an executive at one of Maine’s best-known retailers, the Marden’s discount chain stores. He has also been elected to two terms as the mayor of Waterville — a
predominantly Democratic town — where he helped cut taxes and rebuild the city’s “rainy day” fund and credit rating.
But LePage also can come off as rough around the edges for a statewide politician and is known for off-the-cuff remarks that his supporters find refreshing but that infuriate his opponents.
“He is very authentic and very comfortable in his own skin, and it resonates with people,” said his campaign spokesman, Dan Demeritt. “He certainly has a track record on the issues important to voters right now.”
That gruff style appeared to hurt him with potential voters for a time, judging by slipping support in the polls.
LePage has clashed with the media several times, most notably over a now-resolved tax issue involving homes his family owns in Maine and Florida. He has also been accused of frequently stretching the truth — the Democrats have been putting out a “LePage Lie of the Day” press release for nearly two weeks — and offering few concrete but feasible plans to back up his tough-sounding campaign rhetoric.
But LePage’s poll numbers appear to be rebounding or solidifying — hovering in the mid-30s to as high as 40 percent — as the campaign enters its final stretch.
When Libby Mitchell captured the Democratic nomination during the June primary, many observers expressed surprise at her margin over the three other candidates in what was expected to be a close race. In the end, Mitchell’s name recognition among party faithful and record of leadership — including serving as both House speaker and Senate president — appear to have given her the edge.
Since then, Mitchell has continued to focus on many of the core themes of the Democratic Party, such as strengthening education, protecting natural resources, supporting green energy and making health care more
accessible and affordable.
But she has also talked about the need to further reduce the size of government and make Maine more business-friendly. And Mitchell has trumpeted her leadership helping negotiate several rounds of budget
cuts and bond packages as proof of her abilities to build bipartisan coalitions.
“The Maine Legislature passed five budgets in a bipartisan fashion, and we did not raise taxes,” Mitchell said during a recent campaign stop.
But despite coming into the general election as the best-known candidate, Mitchell has consistently lagged behind LePage and, according to recent polls, may be slipping into third place behind Cutler.
Additionally, Mitchell’s opponents have often tried to use her decades of legislative service against her, labeling her as a “career politician” who they predict will be resistant to the types of change needed for Maine to emerge from the recession.
For her part, Mitchell bristles at such attempts to tarnish her legislative accomplishments. “When we talk about people who have served the state of Maine, like George Mitchell, for instance, we don’t call them career politicians,” Mitchell said earlier this summer. “We call them public servants.” Mitchell has been freed from the obligations of fundraising during the race due to her participation in the state’s public campaign financing
system. But running as a “clean elections” candidate meant Mitchell had to more carefully pace her spending and avoid overt collaboration with outside groups, including the Maine Democratic Party.
Later this weekend, however, President Clinton will make his second trip to Maine in five weeks to stump for Mitchell.
During a recent gubernatorial forum, a staff member with one of the rival gubernatorial campaigns was standing in the back of the room when he pointed to Shawn Moody busily filling the water glasses for
his political rivals on stage. If the race for governor hung on who was the nicest candidate, the staffer agreed, Moody would emerge the champion.
A successful businessman with no previous political experience, Moody has earned a reputation on the campaign trail for his friendly, regular-guy disposition. But he also has garnered a small but ardent following — not to mention the respect of the other candidates — for his emphasis on the needs of Maine’s small business community. Moody is the co-founder of Moody’s Collision Centers, New England’s largest independent collision repair chain.
The lifelong resident of Gorham decided to toss his name — and a significant amount of his own cash — into the gubernatorial race in the spring because he was dissatisfied with the slate of candidates, especially when it came to their plans for reviving Maine’s business community.
“How many times have you heard people say, ‘Why can’t we have a good, honest, regular person go up to Augusta and straighten things out?’ I feel I’m that person,” Moody said back in September.
Moody has focused much of his campaign on the need to reduce the regulations and costs borne by the small businesses that are the backbone of Maine’s economy. He also has called for re-emphasizing the type of vocational and co-op education that allowed him to start his own car repair business at 17 while attending high school.
Despite an aggressive campaign schedule and good reviews for his performances at debates, Moody has never broken into the Top 3 in major polls.
Kevin Scott entered the gubernatorial race arguably as the least-known of the five candidates. An independent candidate, Scott has campaigned on his status as a nonpolitician who will bring fresh ideas and a nonpartisan, collaborative approach to government. Like other candidates, Scott’s primary focus has been on the need for job creation and a more business-friendly climate in Maine while reducing government spending.
A native of western Maine, Scott runs his own recruiting company for high-tech firms. He also chairs the board of trustees of the Andover Water District.
Scott has said often on the campaign trail that this experience provides him with the skills and connections needed to help build Maine’s technology economy. One of his solutions is to use greenhouse technology to turn Maine into a center for year-round agriculture, feeding schoolchildren with locally grown foods.
But unlike most other candidates, Scott has openly acknowledged that he does not have concrete solutions to some of Maine’s most pressing issues. Instead, Scott has pledged to seek out and work with people in Maine and elsewhere around the country who are most knowledgeable on the issues.
“I have the answer,” Scott said this summer. “The answer to the problem is that someone else has the solution.”
That candor and his emphasis on the importance of agenda-free leadership has won him some support. But he has never risen out of the low single digits in most major polls, and he has failed to attract large sums in a campaign that already has shattered records for money spent.