PORTLAND, Maine — Independent candidate Eliot Cutler on Friday appeared with GOP business owners who bucked their party to support him in this year’s gubernatorial election.

The business owners said Cutler’s experience in international commerce as well as government, his dedication to building and expanding “the Maine brand,” and his pledge to keep workers’ compensation costs down made him perfectly suited to help the state’s economy prosper.

The event was held at DiMillo’s restaurant in Portland. Its owner, Steve DiMillo, was one of the businessmen endorsing Cutler.

“I believe he’s the best person for the job, in terms of experience, temperament and ideas,” DiMillo said. “He gets it. He’s a successful businessman and entrepreneur. He has created and grown companies and helped open new markets for Maine products, like lobster. … He’s also worked in government, managing multimillion-dollar budgets and making tough decisions. He knows the difference between helping and getting in the way.”

The other business owners who spoke in favor of Cutler for governor were Tom Moser of Moser Cabinetmakers; Bob Hews of Hews Company, a truck body manufacturer and distributor; and Bri Warner, a former U.S. diplomat turned wholesale pie baker. Jolene Lovejoy, a former GOP lawmaker from Rumford, also endorsed Cutler at the event.

Cutler is running against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. The public polling trend has him trailing his partisan opponents by a wide margin.

Cutler said Friday that the endorsement of Republicans was just one sign of building momentum for his campaign. He rebuked the story told by public polls so far, saying that all the data his campaign had considered showed him in a good position. Cutler has so far, however, refused to make any internal polling public.

His campaign also announced Thursday that it had raised more than $400,000 from contributors in the last reporting period, and Cutler said Friday that Monday and Tuesday had been his largest 48-hour fundraising period to date. The campaign did not disclose other important financial indicators, such as cash on-hand or expenditures, saying those details would be released by the mandatory reporting deadline next week.

The independent candidate also referenced recent high-profile appearances by former Democratic U.S. President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential hopeful Gov. Chris Christie. R-New Jersey, who each stopped in Maine to stump for their party’s Blaine House candidate.

Cutler said the parties could keep their national figures.

“I wouldn’t trade a boatload of ex-presidents or governors with presidential ambitions for the endorsements that I’ve received this morning,” he said. “Unlike Bill Clinton and Chris Christie, these five people actually have a stake in Maine’s future. They’re employing people, they’re paying taxes, they’re investing in our state.”

The idea that a seasoned business professional should occupy the governor’s office is not Cutler’s alone. LePage, who also had a successful private-sector career as a turnaround consultant before entering politics, has long sought to portray himself as the tough-nosed businessman Maine needs to grow the economy.

Warner, the diplomat-turned-baker, said she believed Cutler would be less stubborn than LePage, and more willing to work with political opponents in the interest of all Mainers.

“We’ve seen in the last four years a governor that seems to make decisions with his heart, instead of the hearts and minds of Maine’s people,” she said. “The foot goes down, and that’s the end of the debate.”

Cutler courting conservative voters counters the predominant idea in political circles that he and Michaud are after the same liberal and left-leaning independents this campaign season. He’d previously criticized the endorsement of Michaud by groups such as Equality Maine and the League of Conservation Voters, which he viewed as snubs.

But on Friday, Cutler said he’s not surprised to have the support of unenrolled voters, Democrats and Republicans. He said he was speaking to the shared values of voters.

“Most of us in Maine, regardless of our party label, share pretty similar values,” he said. “We are fiscally prudent, we are socially progressive.”

LePage’s and Michaud’s campaigns on Friday dismissed Cutler’s event, saying that each candidate would attract some support from liberals and conservatives, and from the plurality of Mainers who are unenrolled in any party.

“I think each one of the candidates is fighting for every single Mainer’s votes,” said Alex Willette, LePage’s party spokesman. “All three candidates will get support from different regions, different ideologies.”

Michaud’s spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, said the congressman was “proud to have the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents throughout the state of Maine, including a former LePage appointee who just recently endorsed him,” a reference to Brig. Gen. Don McCormick, a former assistant adjutant general of the Maine National Guard.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and,...