Cutler, Trailing In Maine, Says He's 'Hopeful' But a 'Realist'

The independent said voters in the Pine Tree State should “vote their conscience” next week.

Eliot Cutler, the Maine progressive who is the bane of Democratic leaders in the state, walked up to the edge of withdrawing as an independent candidate from the gubernatorial race on Wednesday but didn't quite cross that line.

Cutler said in a news conference that voters in the Pine Tree State should "vote their conscience" next week. “I’m confident and I’m hopeful but I’m also a realist,” Cutler said, according to the Portland Press Herald. He'll "officially" stay in the race and attend events—but the announcement was widely seen as an acknowledgement that the campaign is over.

The development upends a tight governor's race—and could be a bright spot for Democrats who are facing tough gubernatorial contests in a number of blue states including Massachusetts and Connecticut. Cutler has been running to the left of Democratic candidate, Representative Mike Michaud, a member of the U.S. House since 2003.  

There was little hope that Cutler could win as the race has long been essentially a two-way contest between Republican incumbent Paul LePage and Michaud. A poll conducted by the Portland Press Herald from Oct. 15-21 put LePage up by 10 percentage points and had Cutler garnering support from 16 percent of respondents. A survey conducted several days earlier by the Bangor Daily News was flipped: It had Michaud up by 6 points, while Cutler was taking 16 percent of likely voters.  

Cutler's support comes mostly from liberals in the southern reaches of the state who don't trust that Michaud is sufficiently progressive. Michaud won some of those left-wing voters over last year when he confirmed rumors that he is gay. If he wins next Tuesday, Michaud would become the first openly gay man to be elected governor. 

Moments after Cutler made his announcement, some of his supporters held a news conference to show their support for Michaud. 

Four years ago, Cutler came close to winning in a five-way gubernatorial race. LePage triumphed in the contest and went on to put Maine in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He removed a mural from a state building that he thought wan't sufficiently pro-business. He joked about bombing one of the state's biggest newspapers. He referenced sodomy when disparaging a critic. He was accused of saying President Barack Obama "hates white people"—a charge he described as out of context. 

When I interviewed LePage last summer, he showed me the roll of duct tape that he started keeping on his desk. “We all have faults. Mine is that I can’t keep my mouth shut,” he said. “I promised my staff: Now til Election Day, when I want to say something that is off-color, I’m going to tape my mouth shut.”

He mostly has kept that promise. And Maine mostly has been out of the national spotlight. 

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