Friday, October 22, 2010

Who's the spoiler in Maine governor race?

Maine's three-way gubernatorial race has boiled down to this: a majority of voters don't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to lead the state, but they've had a hard time deciding what to do about it.

The large proportion of undecided voters in the race -- nearly thirty percent in some polls -- are resistant to voting for Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell, who has proudly run as the candidate of the status quo. They could line up behind centrist Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, but they've been paralyzed by the fear this will split the moderate vote, handing the Blaine House to LePage, a serial liar with socially conservative views, a hostility to environmental protection, and the political instincts of a small town street thug.

But recent polls suggest it is Mitchell who has become the real spoiler. The Critical Insights poll released last night confirms the trend: Cutler has doubled his support base to pull into a dead heat with Mitchell, who has been hemorrhaging support since the primaries. (Pine Tree Politics has posted a useful graph of the polling trends here.) Mitchell's candidacy is going nowhere because independents and moderate Republicans can't stomach her (notice she gained no supporters, even as LePage's support dove by fifteen percent in the aftermath of his public tantrums) and many progressives see her as part of the state's cozy Democratic establishment.

It's no accident that Cutler has won the endorsements of the state's leading newspaper (the historically conservative Bangor Daily News), the newspapers in Republican-friendly southern York County (the Seacoast group), the owner of the Village Soup weeklies in Waldo and Knox County (self-declared 'disruptor' Richard Anderson), and the decidedly liberal-progressive alt weekly, the Portland Phoenix. He's the only candidate with a hope of defeating Paul LePage.

[Update, 10/22/10, 15:00: The Brunswick Times-Record has just endorsed Cutler, noting Mitchell has not provided "persuasive evidence she’d be a different governor than fellow Democrat John Baldacci has been for eight years."]

[Update, 10/24/10, 07:50: The Portland Press Herald has also endorsed Cutler, saying
"Mitchell – although a dedicated public servant – is not the agent of change Maine requires."]

[Update, 10/26/10, 09:00: The Lewiston Sun Journal has endorsed Cutler, while the Biddeford Journal endorses Mitchell, rounding out the Maine dailies. Not one of them supported LePage.]

[Update, 10/29/2010: There's a follow-up to this post here.]


  1. I'm all in. Glad to know a smart guy that dispelled my vague unease with explicit analysis. My moral dilemma solved. I'll vote for the candidate I'd actually prefer, and quite equivocating over flawed strategy.

  2. Unfortunately, Cutler would be more like Obama; the smartest guy in the room (according to himself). We need to break some China in Augusta. It wont' be pretty, but it is necessary.

  3. an anonymous (coward) poster hasn't much credibility to begin with, and the stupid, bully metaphor becomes you.

  4. "proudly run as the candidate of the status quo" seems like a pretty ignorant statement to anyone paying attention to the big three's campaigns. Is this journalism, or a biased personal blog? Not a rhetorical question.

  5. @cpinkhouse: This piece is what is known as reported argument, a species of journalism that includes much of what one reads in The Economist or the front pages of The New Yorker. I've been paying attention to the race and stand by my summary of Mitchell's positioning.

  6. I can't accept that any major party candidate who has been through the primary process could be considered a spoiler in a general election.

    I can, however, accept that a wealthy, high profile, self-funded opportunist with more personal style and a lot more money than the major party candidates could sweep in overnight and dazzle editorial boards with a kinda progressive/kinda conservative publicity blitz and be a spoiler. Yes, I can accept that.

    Where was Cutler during the last budget cycle? Or the one before that? Or the one before that? Far, far away.

  7. @cascokid: That's an interesting point of view. I'd contend that having gotten 34% support in a five-way primary race -- 42,000 voters in a state of 1.3 million people -- doesn't disqualify one from being a potential spoiler. In a future world with more vigorous third parties, this situation may become commonplace.

  8. I have agonized over this election for weeks. A registered Democrat who worked hard for the party in the 2008 elections, I wanted to be able to vote for Libby Mitchell, but didn't really WANT to. I saw it as the only way to be certain LePage didn't win. But after learning more and more about Eliot Cutler, I realized I wanted to vote for him because it is the only way to be true to myself. I didn't realize there were so many other people in my position, and now I have hope that if enough people see that Cutler has the intelligence and broad experience to be a great governor he can win. I'm afraid Libby Mitchell just can't. She represents too much of the same old, same old.

  9. I am a huge fan of third/fourth/fifth parties! I'm a registered Independent. What I don't like is how Cutler decided that rather than throw a sixth hat into the primary ring, he'd drop his party affiliation of several decades and become an Independent. Good politics. Great campaign strategy. Also, deceptive and disingenuous.
    The people of Maine who may be swallowing this dubious identity are under false pretense.

  10. I've been in Maine, living in various parts, founding and building several businesses in my years. Throughout those years we have enjoyed the leadership of the Democrats in the legislature and for the most part in the Blaine House. I remember when Libby was a young member of the legislature and watched her rise through the ranks of the Democratic political machine.

    I also watched as one by one any chance of small businesses to really survive and grow dwindled. I also watched as one by one the major corporations capable of bringing large numbers of higher paying jobs and commercial/business infrastructure to Maine, have gone elsewhere. All of these decreases in Maine's employement picture are due to a brain dead philosphy of spending money we don't have and passing the cost of supporting an out of control social welfare climate onto the backs of the people who supply the workplaces that employe people.

    And now Libby Mitchell, the quintessential cog in the Democratic business ruination machine wants to be governor. It's almost enough to make a cat laugh.

    Maine needs a change of direction starting in the Blaine House. Perhaps Page is a kickass enough type of political thug to whip a hostile legislature into line. Perhaps Cutler has the skills and finess to make the outrageously overbloomed Maine government work.

    Whichever the case, Libby is more of the toxicity that has made living in Maine hard for people who are trying to live here and raise families, and hard for those young people who would like to stay here and do the same.

    It's time for someone else.

    Me? Well, I favor Cutler because he's been somewhere else and decided that he wanted to come back. That's a whole lot better than someone who has had trouble understanding that there is more to the world than what is just across the Kennebec River.