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Politics

Independent Alan Caron Drops Out Of Maine Governor's Race

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Brandon Pelletier
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Maine gubernatorial candidate Independent Alan Caron at a Maine Public debate in Bangor on Sunday.

Independent candidate Alan Caron announced Monday that he’s dropping out of the race for governor and backing Democrat Janet Mills.“Today I’m withdrawing from this race,” Caron said at a Monday press conference in Portland, at which he also endorsed Mills.  “I will do everything in my powers in the remaining days of this campaign to support her.”

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Credit Willis Ryder Arnold / Maine Public
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Maine Public
Independent candidate Alan Caron drops out of the Maine governor's race and endorses Democrat Janet Mills, in a news conference Monday in Portland.

Caron said there were no devils or demons in the race, but Mills is the right choice to move Maine forward. "I have concluded after all these months that only one of them has the experience, the intellect and the toughness to do this job," he said.

Caron, a longtime economic development and political consultant, wrote in March that he would get out of the race if polls showed in October that he can’t win. Caron also indicated that he would make his decision in mid-October.

“Here’s my pledge to Maine voters: If it is clear by mid-October that I cannot win the election, I will publicly withdraw from the race. Plain and simple,” Caron wrote in column in the Portland Press Herald. “That is exactly what I publicly urged Eliot Cutler to do during the 2014 campaign and privately recommended to Libby Mitchell four years earlier.”

At a debate Sunday hosted by Maine Public Television, Caron had declined to say whether he would fulfill his pledge to drop out of the race. He had been under pressure since polls indicated that his campaign is not gaining momentum, and amid fears among Democrats that he could narrow Mills' path by splitting the center-left electorate or help Republican Shawn Moody win the four-way contest.

Such concerns stem from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s 2010 victory, in which he won with 38 percent of the vote after independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell split the center-left vote. Fears that the split could happen again prompted many progressives to back the 2016 ballot initiative to use ranked-choice voting in Maine elections.

While the initiative passed, a conflict in the Maine Constitution prompted election officials to use it only in congressional contests, not the gubernatorial election — an outcome that has confused and frustrated some who have voted absentee this fall.

Even with Caron out, Mills’ path to the Blaine House is still complicated by another independent, Terry Hayes, a former Democrat who has vowed to stay in the contest.

Caron declined to criticize Hayes, who is also lagging in the polls.  "I hope only that she will 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," he said.

Mills, who attended the press conference, didn't go that far, only commenting on Hayes's last-minute strategy of targeting conservative voters.

"We saw signs up the other night outside of a debate, new signs that said conservatives for Terry," Mills said. "I don't know what the strategy is, or what the game plan is, or where she might take votes from. But she has every right to run. She qualified for the ballot. That is her right."

There have been few public polls of the race. Some have suggested that Mills is leading while others have her deadlocked with Moody.

But all of the surveys suggested that Hayes is the stronger of the two independents. While her chances of winning continue to be a longshot, she could still affect the outcome.

Hayes has made it clear that she’s staying in the contest. Her ability to get her message to voters is unclear.

Hayes has received more than $1 million through Maine’s public campaign financing law. But her bid to boost her profile with voters has been costly, raising questions about whether she has the financial resources to make a final push at a time when voters are paying close attention to the election.

Publicly available disclosure of television ad buys from Maine’s broadcast networks show that Hayes’ stopped running ads Oct. 2. She continues to run ads on radio and digital platforms. Kyle Bailey, Hayes’s campaign manager, said earlier this week that decisions about television ad buys will be made “week to week.”

The latest campaign finance reports showed that Hayes had about $114,000 in cash left for the race. She cannot qualify for any additional payments under the Maine Clean Election law.

Both Moody and Mills reported cash balances of over $200,000, but both candidates can continue to raise money. They’ve also been boosted by over $7 million in ad spending by outside groups that are allowed to spend unlimited amounts to influence voters.

No outside groups have entered the contest to spend on Hayes’s behalf.

Meanwhile, her campaign is attempting to counter the narrative that she’s siphoning votes from Mills. It has sent several press releases stating the polls show that Moody cannot win and that Hayes is pulling support from conservatives.

“Data is stubborn,” Bailey said in a release. “Republicans have a choice either to unite with independents, third-party voters, and reform-minded Democrats to elect State Treasurer Terry Hayes as Maine’s next governor, or settle into life with Janet Mills in the Blaine House for eight years with, quite possibly, Democratic control of both houses of the Maine Legislature.”

But Jonathan Brown, a canvasser for the Maine People's Alliance, a progressive advocacy group, says he's encountering center-left voters who plan to vote for Hayes first and Mills second. But they can’t, because ranked-choice voting — pushed by many of Hayes’ campaign operatives two years ago — will not be used for the governor's race.

"There haven't been too many people that are misinformed about our use of ranked-choice voting for this November's election,” Brown says. “But I do believe there's been enough that would make a difference in the election.”

Brown says many of those he's talked to say they'll vote for Mills after they learn that ranked-choice won't be used in the governor’s race.

He said Maine's next governor should draft a constitutional amendment that will allow ranked-choice voting to be used in gubernatorial elections.

"We're locked in a system that is depriving us of new ideas and new energy at exactly the moment that we need both," he said.

This post was updated Oct. 29 at 5:08 p.m. ET.

Originally published Oct. 29, 2018 at 10:31 a.m. ET.