Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, right, listens to US Sen. Angus King, left, speaks on Aug. 18, 2014 in Portland, Maine during an event where King endorsed Cutler for Maine governor.
Joel Page/AP

Independent candidate in Maine says ‘vote your conscience’


Eliot Cutler, the third-party candidate in Maine’s gubernatorial contest, has a message for his supporters: If they’d rather vote for one of the other two guys, that’s fine with him.

“I truly believe in democracy and in the ultimate authority of voters to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason, and I don’t think that any voter – whether a supporter of mine or not – now needs or ever has needed my permission or my blessing to vote for one of my opponents,” he said during remarks delivered Wednesday morning (emphasis his). “Nonetheless, I do want to reiterate this morning the simple statement that I first made in Yarmouth many months ago: Anyone who has supported me – but who now worries that I can not win and is thereby compelled by their fears or their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud – should do so.”

RELATED: ‘Turn LePage’ on a radical governor

Speaking to msnbc, Cutler campaign manager Ted O’Meara explained that Cutler’s remarks were simply “an attempt to clarify and restate what he’s been saying all along.” Cutler will continue to fundraise and campaign for the final week of the race, just as he’s always done.

“Nothing changes,” said O’Meara. “He’s out campaigning now.”

Republican Gov. Paul LePage is currently in a dead heat with Democratic challenge Mike Michaud, with Cutler lagging far behind. Last week, Cutler urged Michaud to drop out of the race so that the independent candidate could pick up the Democrat’s votes and defeat LePage. The Michaud campaign’s response: “Michaud is the only candidate who can defeat [LePage].”

The GOP, meanwhile, seems to have an interest in keeping Cutler in the race to split the liberal vote: The Republican Governors Association recently unveiled an ad that doesn’t mention LePage but contrasts Michaud unfavorably with Cutler. (O’Meara told msnbc the ad was “unhelpful” and not condoned by the Cutler campaign.)

RELATED: Will opposition remain divided in Maine?

Cutler’s announcement on Wednesday, even if it’s simply a restatement of past remarks, may provide a small boost to the Michaud campaign if it causes more Cutler supporters to vote for the Democratic candidate. Without explicitly saying that would be the result, a spokesperson for the Michaud campaign did describe Cutler’s remarks as “encouraging” in a statement to msnbc.

“It’s encouraging that Eliot told his supporters to vote their conscience. We all need to come together and ensure that we bring change to the Blaine House on Election Day,” said Michaud for Maine communications director Lizzy Reinholt in an email. “It sounds like Eliot realizes that this is a two-person race, and we know that’s hard. Maine can’t afford four more years of Gov. LePage.”

O’Meara, meanwhile, was insistent that Cutler had no interest in persuading his supporters to vote for one of the opposing candidates over the other.

“He thinks they’re both equally bad,” he said.

RELATED: GOP governors miss out on 2014 conservative wave

Alex Willette, communications director for LePage’s re-election campaign, said Cutler’s announcement “doesn’t make any difference.”

“From our perspective, Eliot Cutler didn’t really change the dynamics,” he said. “He’s still running for governor and Governor LePage is still doing the thing he’s done, criss-crossing the state and asking every Mainer for his vote.”