The argument Democrats are making in Maine is pretty straightforward: Gov. Paul LePage (R), elected with less than 38% of the vote in a three-way race in 2010, is an embarrassment. But LePage may end up with a second term anyway, because Maine’s mainstream vote is being split once again.
Polls show the Tea Party incumbent neck and neck with Rep. Mike Michaud (D), a dynamic made possible by Eliot Cutler’s independent, third-place candidacy. For Dems, the obvious solution is for Cutler to stand aside to prevent LePage from winning re-election. Since Cutler appears unlikely to prevail, the argument goes, the independent would be doing the right thing for Maine, at the cost of his personal ambitions.
But last night, there was an unexpected twist: LePage himself said Democrats are correct.
Another topic of the debate was the dynamic of the three-way race and how any new support for Cutler could pave the way for the governor’s second term. […]LePage was asked about saying Cutler’s campaign was one of the best things for his re-election bid.“It’s certainly an early Christmas present from the standpoint that he was here four years ago and we know what to expect, but I will tell you, four years ago we had Libby Mitchell running. This time we have Mike Michaud running. If it was Mike Michaud against Paul LePage, the election’s over,” LePage said.
That’s quite an acknowledgement for a sitting governor to make out loud towards the end of the campaign. LePage effectively echoed the Democratic argument verbatim: in a head-to-head race, the Republican governor wouldn’t stand a chance.
The fact that the independent is sticking around, splitting Maine’s mainstream, is the only thing standing between the Tea Partier and certain defeat.
For his part, Cutler, who’s shown no indication that he’d bow out to prevent a LePage victory, said last night, “The voters have the final choice. The voters make the decision, and every time an independent has won or almost won in Maine, those decisions get made in the last couple of weeks.”
And that’s certainly one way to look at this race. Another way, however, is to note that there have been 19 publicly available, statewide polls released in Maine in 2014, and Cutler has trailed badly in all of them. The independent hasn’t topped 21% support in any of these polls, despite broad name recognition following two statewide races, and his current average with two weeks until Election Day is 15% – slightly lower than it was in March.
Is it any wonder LePage sees Cutler as a “Christmas present”?