AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler each touted strong fundraising efforts Monday, although neither has formally entered the 2014 race for the Blaine House, which is currently occupied by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
The fundraising totals reflect donations to gubernatorial candidates through July 1. Monday was their deadline to report the activity to the Maine Ethics Commission. LePage had yet to release his newest fundraising total as of 3 p.m. Monday and by law has until midnight to do so. LePage’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said the governor would file his report Monday.
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, reported raising more than $430,000, which was seconded by Michaud at nearly $314,000. Michaud, who currently represents Maine’s 2nd U.S. House District, formed an exploratory committee for his gubernatorial run a month ago.
Michaud, who amassed his total in 17 days after announcing his plans to form an exploratory gubernatorial campaign, said he saw the donations amassed in a relatively short period and the fact that donors from all over the state gave to his campaign as indications that many Mainers want him to unseat LePage after his first term.
“As I travel around the state, I appreciate the encouragement that’s coming from Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Michaud said Monday in a written statement. “There’s a lot of energy in Maine to change the leadership in Augusta.”
Cutler, who finished a close second to LePage in a five-person race in 2010, 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.
LePage, who has not reported his fundraising totals since January, had about $216,000 on hand, of which $39,000 had been spent. 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.