By Michael Shepherd
Following through on an early campaign vow, independent gubernatorial candidate Alan Caron -- conceding that he had no chance to win -- withdrew from the race on Monday to endorse Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee.
Caron, an economic consultant and former Democrat, announced his campaign in the fall of 2017. He qualified for the general election ballot by submitting more than 4,000 signatures on June 1. He and his wife provided the vast majority of his campaign's funding.
The announcement was a stark acknowledgment of the so-called spoiler discussion that has dominated the last three races for governor. Maine enacted ranked-choice voting as a partial response to the two plurality wins for Gov. Paul LePage, but it won't be used in the general election to decide his successor because of constitutional issues.
When he entered the race, Caron, a former Democrat, said he would drop out if he didn't believe he could win. Pressed on that statement last week, he said he would decide the fate of his campaign after Sunday's penultimate televised gubernatorial debate.
He did that on Monday at a news conference at Portland Public Library, where Mills appeared in the room on cue after he announced that he would help the Democrat win "in every way I can," saying it was "abundantly clear" that Mills was the best candidate to unite Maine.
"I am not going to win this race," he said. "Janet is going to win this race."
Caron's run for the Blaine House included an ambitious and detailed economic plan that involved transitioning the state to complete energy independence over the next 30 years, slashing government spending by 10 percent, and establishing a two-year loan plan for college and university students that could be forgiven incrementally each year a student chose to stay and work in Maine after graduating.
However, his candidacy never caught on. He pulled back in the final weeks of the race without running TV ads after he and his wife, Kristina Egan, made $725,000 available for the run. Caron's name will appear on the ballot, but on Monday he told Secretary of State Matt Dunlap's office that he would file a withdrawal notice with the state, which would notify voters at polling places that he withdrew and count any ballots cast for him as blank.
The most recent public poll of the race showed Caron with 2.3 percent of the vote, badly trailing Mills and Republican businessman Shawn Moody. The other independent in the race, State Treasurer Terry Hayes, also polled in single digits, although she was faring better than Caron.
Hayes, who is also a former Democrat, has been courting Republican and Democratic voters at different times during her race, but she has vowed to stay in until the end as Democrats have urged Caron and Hayes to drop out of the race, suggesting that the independents would siphon votes from Mills to potentially swing the outcome to Moody in a plurality race.
Neither Caron nor Mills explicitly said that Hayes should get out on Monday. He said only that Hayes should "find a few moments away from the vortex of the campaign to think about what she could do best to help move this state forward." Mills said she has "every right to run."
Hayes encouraged Caron supporters to rally behind her in a statement, saying electing a partisan "guarantees more fighting and gridlock in Augusta."
Moody's campaign treated Caron's announcement as no surprise, with strategist Brent Littlefield saying in a statement that if people want "politics as usual they can pick Mills or Hayes."
BDN writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.
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