BANGOR, Maine — In an audio recording released Tuesday by the Maine Republican Party, a Democratic state senator campaigning for re-election says if the race for governor were between just Democratic candidate Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, he would vote for Cutler.
Michaud, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. representative, and Cutler are challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
State Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, a doctor, also is heard on the recording questioning Michaud’s intelligence, saying, “he’s not a brain guy.”
Gratwick goes on to say, “If it were Michaud and Cutler, I would have probably voted for Cutler, because I think he’s probably more measured, brighter.”
In the recording, Gratwick says Michaud is “good, he’s good, he’s strong, high average but not a brain guy.”
Gratwick said Tuesday he regretted the statement and that it was taken out of context.
“I am 200 percent in support of Mike Michaud for governor,” Gratwick said. “His election is crucial for the people of Maine. My remarks were taken out of context, and I apologize profoundly to everyone working for change in Maine for my remarks that have led to a misunderstanding.”
The recording appears to have been made by one of Gratwick’s constituents, who says his name is Jim, when Gratwick knocked on his door during a recent campaign trip through the district. Gratwick, who was first elected in 2012, is campaigning for second term in the state Senate.
The recording, released by Republicans on YouTube, is just over one minute long and includes repeating dubs of the statements by Gratwick as well as repeating quotes in still frames. The rest of the conversation with the constituent is not included, and it’s unclear whether Gratwick knew he was being recorded.
In a news release, David Sorensen, the Maine Republican Party spokesman, said the recording was legally obtained under state and federal law because at least one of the two parties heard in it were aware it was being made. Maine law prohibits secret recordings between individuals in a private conversation, if they are not aware of the recording, except in the case of a police investigation when warrant from a judge has been approved for surveillance.
The clips released Tuesday appear to be segments from what was a longer recording, but Sorensen said he would not release the full-length version of the recording because it would identify the person who made it.
“Democratic leaders are trying their hardest to make Congressman Michaud the best candidate for the left, but Sen. Gratwick’s comments expose the dissension in the ranks,” Sorensen said in a prepared statement. “This is the same kind of attitude the left had toward Libby Mitchell in 2010.”
Mitchell, a former state Senate president, was the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor in 2010. She finished a distant third in a five-person race with just 19 percent of the vote, while LePage, the winner, picked up 38 percent won. Cutler came in second with 36 percent of the vote. Shawn Moody, another independent candidate in the race, picked up 5 percent of the vote.
Democrats have maintained Michaud is a far stronger candidate than Mitchell was, and polling, so far, has suggested the race is a tight one between Michaud and LePage with Cutler trailing in a distant third.
But Cutler’s campaign has said his polling numbers in 2010 also lagged until late in the campaign, when he started to pick up momentum with Maine’s large segment of unenrolled voters.
In a release later Tuesday, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Republicans were resorting to “dirty political tactics.” She said the GOP’s refusal to release a full, unedited version of the audio was suspect and raised “serious questions about the authenticity and validity of their claims.”
“Voters are tired of these types of divisive and dirty political tricks,” Reinholt said. “Attacks like this do nothing to create jobs or make the lives of Maine people better, which is why Congressman Michaud is focused on a positive campaign about his vision for the future of Maine.”
The Cutler campaign decried the practice of secretly recording campaign visits but pointed to the incident as a reason for voters to reject the major-party candidates for governor.
“The Cutler campaign does not condone the use of secret recordings, but this just confirms what we hear every day from Democratic and Republican legislators, former legislators and party activists who privately tell us Eliot is the best candidate and that they plan to vote for him,” said Cutler campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney in a prepared statement. “This whole flap, just like [Monday’s] finger-pointing about ads, reminds voters why the parties are more interested in scoring political points than doing what’s best for Maine.”
Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, also criticized the GOP’s tactics and suggested their motives were transparent.
“Gov. LePage and the Republicans have nothing positive to run on so they are resorting to negative, divisive, dirty politics in an effort to distract from the failed leadership of their own candidate,” Grant said in a prepared statement.
Grant also noted that a former LePage appointee, retired Brig. Gen. Don McCormack, a Republican, announced his support for Michaud in the governor’s race.
“Maine voters won’t be fooled. These petty attacks only unite us around Mike and his positive vision for Maine,” said Grant.
McCormack, who served as an assistant adjutant general for Air for the Maine National Guard and as a chief of staff for the Maine National Guard Joint Staff for more than seven years, was appointed by LePage to serve as a bureau director in the Department of Administrative and Financial Services after he retired from the military.
In a release, McCormack said his experience working with Michaud on veterans’ issues was why he believed he was the best candidate to be governor.
“Without a doubt, Mike Michaud is the best person to lead our state,” McCormack said. “Maine needs a leader who is ready for the unexpected challenges that every governor will face. Having seen Mike and Gov. LePage in action, it’s clear that only Mike Michaud has the temperament, the vision and the character to lead Maine and move this state forward.”