PORTLAND, Maine - Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler got a boost today in the form of an endorsement from Sen. Angus King. King, who also backed Cutler four years ago, cites the candidate's centrist political philosophy and business background that he says will serve Maine at a time of serious economic challenges. One political analyst says the King endorsement will provide a much needed shot in the arm for the Cutler campaign, which has been flagging in the polls.
Both men have supported each other in the past, so the independent ground commonly shared by King and Cutler had been trod before. This time, though, King might have used the opportunity to talk about why he opposes the candidacies of Republican Gov. Paul LePage or Democratic challenger Mike Michaud. But that didn't happen.
"You're not going to hear a word out of me today, or between now and November, that's negative about Mike Michaud or Paul LePage," King said. "I know them both, I respect them both. The reason I'm here today is that I think Eliot Cutler is the best of the three and will be the best governor."
During a morning press event at Portland's Kepware Technologies, King touted Cutler's independent political philosophy and previous business experience in China that could help Maine find new marketing and investment opportunities.
"We need a 21st century governor for a 21st century economy," King said. "Eliot is a guy who has led all his life. He has deep roots in Maine. He has experience on the national level and internationally. In the last election, they criticized him because he had international business experience. Holy smoke - that's what you want!"
Cutler said he was deeply appreciative of King's endorsement and pledged to rekindle the enthusiasm and positivity that marked much of King's eight years as governor.
"There are many people in Maine today, and I am certainly one of them, who believe that in your administration it was the last time when the lives of Maine people improved and opportunities for our children expanded," Cutler said. "I will pick up where Angus King left off in 2003 and restore Maine as a place of opportunity for every man, woman and child who lives in this great state."
The King endorsement came before Labor Day, when Maine's political season historically goes into high gear. Cutler - who by some accounts continues to hover in the polls at between 13 to 16 percent - hopes the endorsement will give his campaign a boost among those who have yet to decide among the three well-known political figures. Cutler chaffed at the suggestion that he might split the vote, and ensure another four years for LePage.
"I'm tired, really tired, of hearing the phrase 'splitting the vote,' " Cutler said. "I prefer the phrase 'combining votes' and that's what we're all about. That's what Angus was all about and that's what the people of Maine need now. Two-thirds of the voters in this state haven't decided who they're going to vote for in November."
"At least 50 percent of the voters in Maine have made up their minds," says Ben Grant, the chair of the Maine Democratic Party. Grant expressed skepticism over the number of undecided voters identified by Cutler. But Grant says he's sure that more than 50 percent of the voters did not want four more years of LePage.
"It's clear that Mike Michaud is the alternative that people prefer to Paul LePage, and so we're going to continue to campaign and talk about Paul LePage's failures and make sure that people understand that Mike Michaud is the right one to replace him."
Rick Bennett, the state Republican Party chair, says it's striking that, as a member of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate, King would endorse Cutler over Michaud. But he says Cutler's background in business would be easy for King to embrace.
"When you compare Eliot Cutler with Congressman Michaud, I think certainly Eliot Cutler comes across more as an executive personality, more than Mike does," Bennett says.
The King endorsement should elevate Cutler's standing among Maine voters, according to University of Maine Farmington Political Science Professor Jim Melcher, who says Cutler's gubernatorial profile needs a boost.
"For a campaign whose numbers have been kind of stuck, it's a shot in the arm, given that there seems to be a lot of flexibility among voters that want to vote out Gov. LePage between which way they should go," Melcher said. "I think that it has some effect in giving some momentum."
But whether the King endorsement offers just a momentary bump up or is the beginning of a prolonged Cutler rally is anyone's guess.