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Politics

Maine Election Twist: GOP Funds Mailer Touting Independent Cutler

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Patty Wight
/
MPBN

AUGUSTA, Maine - With a little more than two weeks until Election Day, another twist in the battle for the Blaine House: Maine Republicans are now paying to distribute mailers favorable to both Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler. The mailers cast doubts on Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud's positions on several issues, and portray Cutler's positions on those same issues in a favorable light. One election watcher says the strategy could not only help Michaud - it could also hurt Cutler.

 

The Republican fliers, says Bowdoin College Government Professor Michael Franz, are an attempt to boost support for Republican Gov. Paul LePage at Michaud's expense, by encouraging on-the-fence Democrats to cast votes for Cutler. While Franz says the strategy could produce the intended GOP effect among some, the party also risks unintended consequences.

One example: Cutler supporters could decide they don't like what this says about the independent's chances of winning. Franz says the idea that Cutler support could play out as a benefit to LePage is bound to be a discussion point among Cutler-leaning voters who are more interested in defeating LePage than electing Cutler.

"I think the more discussion surrounding these kind of things - specifically this mailer - could potentially put some pressure on those folks to abandon Cutler," Franz says.

The flier attempts to persuade voters that Cutler's views are closer to core Democratic positions on issues like gun control and the right to choose an abortion. It also portrays Cutler as a candidate with management experience and Michaud with none. With Michaud and LePage battling for first place in the polls, the more support Republicans can provide Cutler, the better their chances of eking out a narrow victory for LePage, as was the case in 2010.

For those voters whose primary mission lies in LePage's defeat, Franz predicts there will be considerable efforts among Cutler-leaning voters to switch their votes to Michaud. "I think that, as the discussion and chatter in the next two weeks increases, there's going to be incredible pressure put on Cutler people to either stick with a sinking ship - 'cause he's not going to win - or move out and apply their vote to a candidate who is in the top two," he says.

"We've known all along that the Republicans know their only pathway to victory has been Eliot Cutler," says Michaud campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt.

Reinholt says this isn't the first time the GOP has tried to play one side against another in order to secure a victory in a three-way race. In 2012, the Maine Republican Party, and others, sent mailers and actually ran ads that portrayed Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill as more progressive than independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who was leading in the polls.

Reinholt says on Election Day, voters will rally around the candidate they believe can defeat LePage. "It's clear that voters in this race are very concerned about seeing Gov. Paul LePage being reelected, and despite how much dirty politics the Republicans try, when it comes to Election Day, I doubt voters will be fooled," Reinholt says.

The Cutler campaign declined comment for this report.