AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent Eliot Cutler has taken the first step toward running for governor next year.
Cutler on Thursday filed paperwork with the Maine Ethics Commission to form a campaign committee, a move that will allow him to begin raising money for a possible Blaine House bid.
Cutler lost to Republican Gov. Paul LePage by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2010, placing second in a race that also included Democrat Libby Mitchell. Since 2010, Cutler has remained in the public eye, maintaining a high profile through a state-level political action committee, participation in Angus King’s campaign for U.S. Senate, and involvement in an ultimately unsuccessful national campaign to nominate a third-party, centrist candidate for president.
Cutler plans to travel across Maine in the coming months as he considers whether to launch a 2014 Blaine House bid, said Ted O’Meara, who managed Cutler’s 2010 campaign.
“That’s going to incur some expenses,” he said. “You’ve got to have a means of capturing that and accounting for that. That’s why the filing was done.”
A formal announcement would come later this year, potentially in the late summer or early fall, O’Meara said.
Cutler, a lawyer who lives in Cape Elizabeth, is the second person to form a gubernatorial campaign committee for the 2014 race. While LePage hasn’t announced whether he’s running for re-election, he’s formed a campaign committee and raised about $220,000.
“The governor is focused right now on continuing his success in lowering the unemployment rate and continuing his efforts to pay Maine’s hospital debt to fix Maine’s budget,” said Brent Littlefield, a political adviser to LePage. “There’s a process in place for candidates to get on the ballot. There’s a petition process, and that all takes place next year.”
The formation of Cutler’s committee comes two days after a national polling firm released a survey showing LePage could win re-election if the 2014 gubernatorial race becomes a three-way matchup featuring LePage, Cutler and a Democrat. Cutler would place second in three of the five scenarios the pollster, Public Policy Polling of North Carolina, tested. He would trail U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud or Chellie Pingree if either of them decided to run, according to the poll.
Public Policy Polling found Cutler would lead LePage in a head-to-head contest 49-41. But Michaud, Pingree and former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci would beat LePage by wider margins, according to the pollster. Baldacci has said he would consider a gubernatorial bid next year if Michaud and Pingree decide not to run.
Cutler “doesn’t have a viable pathway to win the race, whereas a Democratic candidate will have a pathway to win, especially if it’s one of our top-tier candidates,” said Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant.
O’Meara said it’s too early to take any poll assessing next year’s gubernatorial race too seriously.
“I think there is a real danger in reading too much into any of them and letting people draw conclusions in January 2013 that this is what the field will look like,” he said. “All of that stuff is way too early.”
Cutler, a Bangor native, worked for the late Sen. Edmund Muskie as counsel to a Senate Subcommittee on the Environment before joining the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter. Before launching his 2010 campaign, Cutler ran the Beijing office of the Washington, D.C., law firm Akin Gump.
After his 2010 run, Cutler formed OneMaine, a state-level political action committee that supported a handful of Democratic, Republican and independent legislative candidates during the 2012 campaign season. He also signed on as a state chairman of King’s Senate campaign last year and served on the board of Americans Elect, a nonprofit organization that tried to launch a third-party presidential campaign in 2012 but was unsuccessful.