BANGOR, Maine — Two more gubernatorial polls released Friday confirmed what other recent polls have shown: The race is still Republican Paul LePage’s to lose, but independent Eliot Cutler has either pulled even or surged ahead of Democrat Libby Mitchell with only a few days left until Election Day.
A poll of 400 voters released Friday by Pan Atlantic SMS Group had LePage at 36.8 percent, Cutler at 30.6 percent and Mitchell at 21.8 percent. Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott combined for 4 percent with the remaining 7.3 percent undecided. The margin of error is 4.9 percent. The telephone survey was con-ducted early this week
A poll by Critical Insights conducted for MaineToday Media showed a similar trend, although LePage had a bigger lead with 40 percent support. Mitchell and Cutler were tied at 21 percent with 11 percent undecided.
Two polls released Thursday also showed LePage with 40 percent support. A Rasmussen poll had Mitchell and Cutler tied at 26 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey showed Cutler at 28 percent and Mitchell at 24 percent. Undecideds were below 5 percent in both.
If the recent polls are good news for LePage and Cutler, they are bad news for Mitchell, whose support appears to have plummeted.
“Until this week, I didn’t think Cutler had a chance,” University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried said. “Twelve points is hard to overcome, but six points is doable over the weekend. LePage could lose support, too. I keep wondering where are all the moderate Republicans going?”
Cutler campaign manager Ted O’Meara said the recent polls conclusively show that his candidate’s viability is no longer in question.
“Eliot has clearly moved into second place and it’s a two-person race,” O’Meara said Friday. “You want to surge like this before Election Day. We’d love to have it a week or two earlier, but we think it’s enough to put Eliot over the top.”
Not long ago, Mitchell’s campaign touted the race as a two-person battle between Mitchell and LePage. Mitchell spokesman David Loughran declined to comment on whether it remains a two-way race, but he said the recent polls are not necessarily indicative of the Democrat’s support.
“Libby has had bigger and bigger crowds at events in the last few weeks,” Loughran said. “I don’t want to discount the accuracy of one poll, but polls have been all over the place.
LePage spokesman Dan DeMerritt said whichever candidate is running second doesn’t change the news for the Republican.
“Poll after poll shows that his message of change is resonating,” DeMerritt said.
The flood of polls late in the game has done little to clarify the governor’s race. MaryEllen Fitzgerald of Critical Insights said her poll shows tremendous volatility in the governor’s race.
“It’s looking pretty different on a daily basis. I’d love to do another poll on Sunday,” she said.
In 1994, independent Angus King made a late surge to narrowly overtake Democrat Joe Brennan, 35 percent to 34 percent, while Republican Susan Collins came in third with 23 percent.
There is no denying the power of polls, particularly in a digital age where results are posted immediately and shared widely. Nationally, candidates have been using polling results to highlight their support, and when the results are not favorable, campaigns often challenge the accuracy of polls.
There is also some variation in how polls are conducted. Each polling firm uses demographics to make sure surveys reflect the right mix of men and women, older and younger voters and Democrats and Republicans.
Some pollsters, such as Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling, conduct automated surveys, while others, such as Pan Atlantic and Critical Insights, use live operators to ask questions.
Patrick Murphy, president of Pan Atlantic, the Portland-based polling firm, said he believes 37 percent is the likely threshold for victory in the governor’s race. He said LePage has the clear advantage but didn’t rule out Cutler.
“If Cutler pulls it out, it would be pretty historical,” Murphy said.
Some pundits are pointing to recent negative advertising by Democrats targeting Cutler as a reason for Mitchell’s slide. Even some Democrats have condemned the tactics, including state Rep. Steven Butterfield, D-Bangor, who appeared at a rally Friday in Bangor with Cutler to announce he was breaking ranks to support the independent.
Loughran, however, said he doesn’t believe Mitchell’s campaign has been negative.
“We’re comparing issue differences. That’s what we’ve tried to do in our spots and that’s fair,” he said.
The Pan Atlantic poll released Friday also showed 50.6 percent of voters supporting Question 1, a referendum that seeks to build a casino and resort in Oxford County, while 46.8 percent are opposed.
The Critical Insights survey showed casino supporters with a 52-43 edge.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.