Eliot Cutler: ME-Governor Frontrunner?

In Maine, the leading candidate might not be the Democratic or Republican nominee. It's Eliot Cutler.
by | June 17, 2010
 

In case you hadn’t noticed, the campaign for governor of Maine is fast becoming one of my favorite races this cycle. Long one of the most ill-defined gubernatorial contests in the country, the Maine race has been invigorated with the nominations of the fascinating Paul LePage, a Republican, and the not-uninteresting Libby Mitchell, a Democrat.

One problem I’ve always found with following politics in Maine is that the local press corps isn’t that good. I’ve never discovered someone like Rich Miller in Illinois or John Maginnis in Louisiana or Jon Ralston in Nevada who could tell you what was really going on. (As an aside, sadly several people who used to fulfill the uber-pundit role in various states – Darrell West in Rhode Island, David Yepsen in Iowa and David Postman in Washington – have moved on to other pursuits over the last couple of years).

But, George Smith of the Kennebec Journal has a great column that may make me reassess my disdain for Maine’s press corps. He reports that the congealing conventional wisdom is that the frontrunner in the race for governor isn’t LePage or Mitchell:

Conventional wisdom already has elected Independent Eliot Cutler Maine’s next governor.

A surprising number of insiders believe Republican Paul LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell — although strong in their respective party primaries — are weak candidates for November’s general election.

...

The early line on this race reports LePage too conservative and subject to gaffes caused by his outspoken and frank responses to questions, and Mitchell too liberal and too long in state government, the source of much angst and anger amongst voters.

Maine is a state where independent and third-party candidates must be taken seriously. Before John Baldacci won the governorship in 2002, independent Angus King was the governor for two terms. In each of the last five gubernatorial races in Maine, an independent or third-party candidate has won at least 9% of the vote.

Still, I'm surprised that so much is expected of Cutler, a lawyer and former Carter administration official. Earlier in the cycle, it looked as though changes in Maine’s public financing rules were going to make this year rougher for candidates who aren’t Democrats and Republicans. But, according to Smith, Cutler has something better than public funding: personal wealth.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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