AUGUSTA – U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, is expected to make his run for governor official with an announcement Thursday in Lewiston.
Michaud will make a statement during a noon appearance at the Franco-American Heritage Center, his campaign said.
Michaud has been fundraising since launching an exploratory committee in mid-June. On Tuesday, word spread in political circles that the six-term congressman was making a “major announcement” in Lewiston later this week.
David Farmer, a spokesman for Michaud, would not confirm the announcement, saying only that the exploratory campaign would release additional details on Wednesday.
The 2014 gubernatorial race has jumped off to an early start. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has made his candidacy official, while independent Eliot Cutler has so far announced his intention to run.
Meanwhile, Michaud and Cutler have been competing for donors that could help one of the candidates gain the upper hand in a race that could divide unenrolled and Democratic-leaning voters.
A similar scenario unfolded in 2010 when LePage won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. However, national and local political observers believe the block of voters that split in 2010 could unite behind either Cutler or Michaud.
Democrats are betting on Michaud, whose interest in the Blaine House has already triggered attention from the Democratic Governors Association, a national political group that targets key races with political advertisements and advocacy efforts. The DGA has been running online ads critical of LePage since June.
Last week, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Michaud’s entry into the race and poor poll numbers for LePage had changed the Maine governor’s race from a “toss-up” to “leans Democratic/independent.”
“The point of our ratings change is to make clear that we believe Mainers are growing weary of the LePage act, and usually the curtain comes down on the show one way or the other in these circumstances,” he noted at his website Sabato’s “Crystal Ball.”
“As of today, we suspect that Michaud has the better chance to bump LePage out of prime time, but it is early and we’ll continue to watch.”
Similar assessments have been offered by the popular Five Thirty Eight blog at The New York Times.
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, has rebutted claims that the governor is in trouble politically, saying that the campaign’s polling shows LePage with strong approval numbers. The campaign has not released its polling data.
Nonetheless, the race between Cutler and Michaud is expected to be fierce, particularly as both compete for donors and support.
In the most recent campaign finance reports, Cutler had more than $430,000 in contributions, about 40 percent more than Michaud’s $313,000.
Michaud, a six-term congressman representing Maine’s 2nd District, raised his money in 17 days. Cutler entered the race six months ago.
The totals belied the competition for donors that supported Cutler during his second-place finish in 2010. Michaud has captured some of those 2010 donors, including Bonnie Porta of Cape Elizabeth, now his campaign treasurer, and her husband, Robert C.S. Monks. Both are prolific donors to the Maine Democratic Party.
Monks is a former investor in MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Waterville Sentinel. Monks is no longer an investor in the company, but sits on the company’s advisory board, which meets about twice a year.
Cutler, meanwhile, still has received donations from prominent Democrats, including former chairman of the Maine Democratic Party Harold Pachios and his wife, Claudia.
LePage has garnered $340,000 in donations. His last semiannual draw of $123,000 was slightly off the pace from 2012, but the fundraising period didn’t include donations from a fundraiser in Kennebunkport held in July. Additionally, LePage’s fundraising for the first half of this year was restricted because a sitting governor cannot receive donations during a legislative session from corporations that deploy lobbyists.
Michaud may face a Democratic primary challenge. Yarmouth’s Steve Woods, who ran as independent in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, announced last year that he was running as a Democrat in 2014.
Independent hopefuls include Lee Schultheis of Freeport and Adam Eldridge of Brewer. David Slagger, a Green Independent, has also been fundraising for 2014.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: email@example.com