Maine Gov. Paul LePage during a news conference March 10, 2014, in Brunswick, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Republican Governors Association exploits its pawn in Maine

There’s no shortage of interesting campaigns this year, but there’s no race in the nation quite like Maine’s gubernatorial race.
If you haven’t been following it, Tea Partying Gov. Paul LePage (R), who won with less than 38% of the vote in a three-way race in 2010, is effectively tied in most recent polls with Rep. Mike Machaud (D). LePage would probably get crushed in a head-to-head contest, but the mainstream vote is being split between Machaud and Independent Eliot Cutler, who also ran four years ago.
LePage, well aware of the circumstances, last week referred to Cutler’s candidacy as “an early Christmas present.” Today, Chris Christie’s RGA went even further.
On Tuesday, the Republican Governor’s Association released its latest ad, which attacks Michaud and not-so-discreetly props up Cutler.
The RGA spot explains that a vote Michaud cast when he was in the Legislature would have imposed a new tax on Social Security. “It was such a bad idea that then-Gov. Angus King vetoed it,” the ad voiceover said. “No wonder independent King now endorses Eliot Cutler.”
Yep, the Republican Governors Association has taken the extraordinary step of creating an ad touting a popular figure endorsing an independent candidate. The independent candidate is running against a Republican incumbent, but the RGA doesn’t care – if it can boost support for Cutler, those are votes coming from Maine’s mainstream, not the Republican base.
In other words, the Republican Governors Association is sending a not-so-subtle message to Cutler’s supporters: it’s time to use you as a pawn in the Republican machine.
“The RGA knows that the only path to re-election for the deeply unpopular Gov. LePage is to boost the faltering campaign of Eliot Cutler,” Michaud campaign manager Matt McTighe said in a statement. “This is a desperate attempt to split the vote that is uniting to defeat Gov. LePage and end four years of policies that have held Maine’s economy back.”
That’s the obvious Democratic line, but it has the advantage of being true. Republicans, without any real sense of shame, are deliberately trying to prop up a fading independent candidate, confident that their GOP incumbent would lose in a head-to-head fight.
I would imagine independents in Maine won’t much appreciate the ham-fisted Republican tactics, and part of me wonders if such an over-the-top scheme will backfire.
Then again, it’s been obvious for several months that Cutler’s candidacy is a gift to Maine Republicans, and for Cutler’s supporters, either that’s a problem or it isn’t. Having the RGA make explicit what has long been implicit simply brings the dynamic into sharper focus.