Independents hold key in Maine governor’s race


LIGHTNING ROD: Maine Gov. Paul LePage has infuriated the Left with his cost-cutting agenda and off-the-cuff comments. Independent hopeful Eliot Cutler, hardly a conservative, may be Republican LePage’s most valuable asset in this fall’s three-way gubernatorial race.

By Kenric Ward |

AUGUSTA, Maine — Outspoken and under fire, Republican Gov. Paul LePage is in danger of losing his re-election bid.

One of the most conservative governors in the country, LePage triangulated his way to victory in 2010 with 38 percent of the vote. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who siphoned enough Democratic support to give LePage the win, is running again this year. But the Georgetown-educated lawyer is not drawing the numbers he did four years ago.

The latest polls show Democrat Mike Michaud (pronounced Me-shoo) holding a one to four-point lead, at around 40 percent.

Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics lists LePage as one of the nation’s three most vulnerable GOP governors up for re-election, along with Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.

Hostile Maine media outlets and ascendant Democrats – who regained control of the Statehouse in 2012 – have dogged LePage from Day One. He hasn’t backed down.

The former Waterville mayor has told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” called the IRS “the new Gestapo” and said he wouldn’t be afraid to tell President Obama to “go to hell.”

Shattering any notion of bipartisanship, he turned a traditional welcoming speech at the opening of the 2013 Legislature into a full-frontal attack on Democrats.

LePage vetoed a record 38 bills that session, mainly on fiscal grounds. Among his vetoes, he cut state spending and blocked higher snowmobile fees.

LePage’s pro-business and tough-on-crime agenda plays well in the small towns and rural sections of Maine.

Robert Norton, of Rockland, said he supports LePage’s decision to quit the National Governors Association. LePage called the $60,000 annuals dues a waste of state money.

“They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made,” LePage declared.

Taxpayer groups applaud LePage for curbing welfare spending and putting a five-year cap on benefits. Before 2010, Maine was the only state to rank among the top six in per-capita use of food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

While praising the governor’s fiscal management, Norton acknowledged that LePage’s shoot-from-the-lip style can boomerang.

“I sometimes just wish he’d think before he opens his mouth,” the retired printer and carpenter said.

Michaud, now representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, would become the nation’s first openly homosexual governor. He’s banking on center-left independent voters to abandon Cutler, whose fiscal and social agenda virtually mirrors Michaud’s.

But independent-minded Mainers frequently reject the major parties. Former Gov. Angus King was elected to the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2012, and the popular King has endorsed Cutler.

Currently, 34 unaffiliated candidates are running for the Maine Legislature. Buoyed by a state campaign-finance ruling that puts independent gubernatorial candidates on fairer footing against the established parties, Cutler says there’s “no chance” he’ll quit his second quest for governor.

Independents comprise 37 percent of the state’s electorate, versus 32 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican.

If LePage is viewed as too conservative, Michaud hasn’t helped himself by promoting big-government ideas, such as more taxpayer assistance for illegal immigrants. TV ads, funded largely by out-of-state groups, have hammered him relentlessly on that. LePage, too, has been targeted by air blitzes from ostensibly “independent” organizations.

Democrats may have overreached when they hired a full-time “tracker” to videotape the governor’s comings and goings.

Calling out the operative brought in from Massachusetts, the blunt-speaking LePage lectured lawmakers: “I’ve been honored to have a private paparazzi paid for by the Democratic Party … I think it’s vulgar, I think it’s vicious, and I think it’s vile to me and my family.”

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward