Viability of Cutler Campaign Questioned in Wake of Finance Reports

Jul 23, 2014

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, who is trailing in the fundraising battle in the race for the Blaine House.
Credit File photo

According to campaign finance reports submitted last night, Democratic candidate Mike Michaud has more than $1 million in cash on hand, and is closely followed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler trails, with just over a half-million - and that includes a large sum that he personally contributed to his campaign. One Maine political scientist says it may be time for Cutler to rethink his candidacy.

For the most recent filing period between May 28 and July 15, Democrat Mike Michaud has more than $1 million left in his campaign fund, while LePage has just over $900,000. Meanwhile, independent Eliot Cutler has about $527,000 in cash on hand. But that includes $580,000 he gave to himself.

Colby College Political Science Professor Sandy Maisel says Maine's historical political landscape features no shortage of candidates who have largely self-funded their campaigns.

"The vast majority do not win, and it seems to me what that reflects is not that people resent their money, but that, in fact, they haven't built a base of support that is broad enough to win a general election," Maisal says. "So if I were in the Cutler campaign, I would be worried about that."

Cutler is polling at around 15 percent, and heavily self-financing his campaign. Maisel says that's a much different situation than four years ago, when Cutler nearly defeated LePage by drawing Democrats away from Libby Mitchell's camp in the final weeks of the campaign.

"The entire premise of the Cutler campaign is that those people will come to his side near the end as they did four years ago," Maisel says. "The problem is, his numbers are staying very low and he's not showing the kind of broad support that would seem to lead one to that conclusion. And most of the people I know are saying, 'We can't stick with him if he's going to finish third and take votes away, and essentially elect Gov. LePage again."

But Cutler says Maisel's take on the current race reminds him of a conversation the two had four years ago. "Sandy's advice was to get out of the race because I was going to lose badly to Libby Mitchell," Cutler says. "Now, I don't want to suggest that Sandy's wrong all the time, but I am giving zero thought - maybe less than zero, if that's possible - to getting out of this race. I'm going to win this race."

Cutler says he's had to finance his own campaign, because Maine's election law stacks the cards against independents. That's because Republicans and Democrats are allowed to raise twice as much money from individuals, whether or not they have a primary. And Cutler, unlike LePage or Michaud, refuses to accept money from PACs or outside sources.

University of Maine Political Science Professor Mark Brewer says Cutler's defense for only raising half of Michaud's total is valid, but he says the numbers don't bode well for the campaign in the months ahead. "For me, the more important take-away is that if it wasn't for money he was willing to loan himself, he wouldn't have any money," Brewer says.

Cutler says he sees no diminished enthusiasm among the voters he meets, and that when compared to his fundraising efforts four years ago, he's significantly ahead of the game.

"In July of 2010, we had raised $320,000 from donors," Cutler says. "In July of 2014, we've raised over $1 million - more than three times as much, and we're doing this with two hands tied behind our back."

The Michaud campaign says Cutler's fundraising reflects his relative lack of support in the race. Meanwhile, the LePage campaign - which hopes to see Cutler eat into Michaud's support in November - says it continues to view Cutler as a highly competitive opponent.