January 22, 2013

Eliot Cutler makes overtures at 2014 gubernatorial run

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler may take the first step toward a second bid for the Blaine House later this week.

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Eliot Cutler

Gregory Rec

"I'm going to do something this week," Cutler said on Tuesday. He said there would be no formal announcements or press conferences, but he declined to provide additional details.

Cutler was responding to rumors that he planned to make an announcement about his candidacy. The Cape Elizabeth resident declined to comment further, but his remarks suggest that he may announce the formation of his campaign committee, a required preliminary step for gubernatorial candidates.

Cutler's move coincides with the release Tuesday of a poll by Public Policy Polling, a national firm, showing that Gov. Paul LePage is among the least popular governors in the country, yet he would likely finish first in a three-way campaign involving Cutler and various Democrats.

The poll release and rumblings of Cutler's announcement touched off early salvos from potential opponents. Brent Littlefield, who is involved with LePage's re-election committee, said Cutler has been campaigning ever since he lost to LePage in 2010. Democrats, meanwhile, said the PPP poll showed that Cutler would be a spoiler.

Cutler has long been regarded as a likely Blaine House candidate in 2014. If he announces the formation of a campaign committee, it does not guarantee that he will run. However, the step enables Cutler to begin raising money.

Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said Tuesday that at first blush it may seem early for Cutler to initiate his campaign. He said Cutler may be trying to capitalize on a news cycle that has been dominated by state and national politics.

"I think everyone has assumed that Cutler was going to run again," Melcher said. "It makes sense that he would get in a little earlier than normal when the energy and interest in politics is high."

Additionally, Melcher said, forming a campaign committee doesn't lock in Cutler to running again, but creating one early may have some strategic value.

The re-election committee for Republican Gov. Paul LePage was formed in August of 2011. LePage's campaign committee has held several fundraisers since then and has become more active over the last couple of months.

LePage, who narrowly defeated Cutler during a five-way race in 2010, has not formally announced that he's running for a second term.

Cutler lost to LePage by 1.8 percentage points in 2010. It was a stinging loss for Cutler, who blamed early voting and other factors for the defeat.

Cutler, an attorney, was born and raised in Bangor. He has not held elected office but was the assistant director of national resources and energy for President Jimmy Carter. Prior to that he was a legislative assistant for former Democratic U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie and was involved with the drafting of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

He later headed a national environmental law firm that eventually folded with the international firm Akin Gump, one of the most prolific D.C. lobbying organizations in the country.

After his 2010 loss to LePage, Cutler vowed to remain politically active and established OneMaine, an offshoot of his former campaign apparatus that is designed to support independent candidates and claims not to be a "stalking horse" for Cutler himself.

Cutler has also remained in the public spotlight, making weekly appearances on local radio shows. He was also a board member for Americans Elect, a national, nonprofit group originally formed to achieve ballot access in every state for the purpose of introducing a bipartisan presidential ticket. That presidential push fizzled, but Americans Elect resurfaced during the U.S. Senate race when it spent over $1.3 million to help elect independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

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