A Declaration of Independence in New England: Eliot Cutler’s Independent bid for Governor of Maine

Given the US public’s deep dissatisfaction with the Democratic and Republican parties, numerous political commentators and prognosticators have suggested that the current political climate favors outsiders and the Independent. 

In the northeast, for instance, there are a number of promising independent candidates for governor.  Lincoln Chafee continues to lead the polls in Rhode Island’s gubernatorial contest.  In Massachusetts, Tim Cahill’s candidacy is likely to ensure a competitive three-person race.  And in Maine, Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler is well-positioned to wage a strong and potentially winning campaign for the governor’s mansion. 

Perhaps the most telling indicator that these candidates represent a clear and present danger to the Democratic-Republican political establishment is the fact that the Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association have both launched coordinated attacks on all three of these candidates in television and radio ads, and on the web with sites dedicated entirely to the effort. 

The Maine gubernatorial race took its final shape last week following the Democratic and Republican party primaries.  With the nominations of Democrat Libby Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage, Maine voters will choose from a field of at least five candidates for governor.  In addition to Eliot Cutler, there are two more Independent candidates for the office who qualified for ballot access by petition:  Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott. 

However, among the Independent candidates, the Cutler campaign is widely viewed to have the best chance of giving the Democrat and Republican a run for their money.  Indeed, as of February, Cutler had raised more money than both Libby Mitchell and Paul LePage, according to a report at the Augusta Insider

Strategically, the nominations of Mitchell and LePage are said to bode well for Cutler, who is running on a moderate centrist platform.  One commentator at the Portland Press Herald has suggested that the Democrats and Republicans have nominated “fringe candidates” who are “not up to the challenges ahead.”  At Pine Tree Politics, Clark Phinney agrees, writing, “LePage has the far right lane and Mitchell has the far left lane. That leaves the middle lanes wide open for Cutler to travel through, and, if he plays his cards right, cruise to victory.” 

Cutler also has recent history and current partisan trends on his side.  Two of Maine’s last five governors were Independents, and 37% of Maine voters identify themselves as Independents, outnumbering Democrats and Republicans by a comfortable margin (32% and 27% respectively). 

However, in one of the few polls measuring public opinion in this race, Rasmussen found 7% support for Cutler, with 46% stating they were “not sure” about their impression of the Independent candidate.  This may change relatively quickly as the Cutler camp appears to be preparing an aggressive media campaign, having released a major television spot just days after the primary election. 

In an interview for Third Party and Independent Daily last week, I asked the candidate why he opted to run for governor as an Independent rather than within one of the major parties.  He struck a note that will likely ring true for many an Independent voter: 

     “I am running as an Independent because I am one . . . the leadership of both parties has become captive to the various special interests that control them and . . . they are both incapable to governing from the moderate center.  I am committed to doing that and to giving voice and representation to what I believe is an overwhelming majority of independent and moderate Maine voters who want to see Maine government work again.” 

This is certainly not the last we’ll hear from Eliot Cutler.