Recollections of the past can tell us much about the future, especially when glimpsed through the prism of the present. In this case, the present is the recent decision by EqualityMaine to endorse Democrat Congressman Mike Michaud in his bid for the Blaine House over independent candidate Eliot Cutler.
On the evening of Nov. 6, 2012, I attended the Mainers United for Marriage victory party, where I felt out of place and vastly outnumbered. What set me apart from the crowd had a lot more to do with my party registration than my sexual orientation.
The marriage campaign was coming down to the wire and hotel was stuffed full of Democrats awaiting the results of the marriage question and candidate races of national, state and local importance. They were having an exceedingly good night.
Cutler was also in attendance. A long and outspoken supporter of gay rights, he was there to celebrate the marriage victory and, one would assume, speak with potential supporters about his upcoming race for governor as an independent candidate.
Cutler’s presence prompted one Democratic Party leader to assure me that the Democrats would have a strong, well-financed candidate for governor in 2014. I was told that the party would unite behind its candidate and subject Cutler’s candidacy to far more scrutiny than in 2010.
EqualityMaine’s endorsement is just the latest manifestation of the resolve I learned about that night.
EqualityMaine’s carefully worded and qualified endorsement of Michaud celebrates his service in Congress and proven record of bringing Mainers together but is silent on the 19 votes he cast in the Legislature against proposals that would have made it unlawful to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
While Cutler has arguably the more consistent record of support on issues important to the gay community, he never had a chance at their endorsement with an openly gay and viable Democratic candidate in the race.
For EqualityMaine, the chance to support and elect the nation’s first openly gay governor is simply too big of an opportunity to pass up. Michaud’s ascension to the Blaine House would be a symbolic and historic advancement in the fight for gay acceptance and equality.
Michaud’s candidacy is also a great chance for EqualityMaine to strengthen its coalition and raise money.
The Cutler campaign issued a 2,064-word statement attacking the EqualityMaine endorsement as a partisan political decision rather than a principled one. I thought the issues raised in Cutler’s statement were legitimate but the annoyance overdone.
EqualityMaine and every center-left establishment organization that relies on Democrats to advance their agenda in Maine are going to be under intense political and financial pressure to back the establishment Democrat candidate in the race for governor in 2014.
While Cutler will earn the support of some notable leaders from the center-left set, he is going to find it very difficult to earn merit-based endorsements from organizations looking to maintain or advance their standing among the Democratic establishment that has long set the political agenda in Maine.
That leaves Cutler with two options. He can forget about endorsements and run a mostly self-financed campaign that is truly independent of the major political parties and entrenched political organizations.
Option 2 would be for Cutler to register as a Democrat and self-fund a primary campaign for the Democratic nomination. He has until March 1 to enroll in the party and until the middle of March to get the signatures needed to appear on the June primary ballot.
Cutler started his career working for Maine Democratic Sen. Ed Muskie and Democrat President Jimmy Carter. Vying for the party’s nomination as a candidate who combines Democratic principles with an independent-minded approach to problem solving seems doable — especially if you can spend a couple million dollars making the case.
While I think Cutler would have a hard time winning the hearts, minds and support of establishment party leaders, he could make a passionate case about the importance of unifying Democrats and independents in order to defeat LePage. That sense of duty or self-sacrifice could play well with rank-and-file Democrat voters. Unenrolled voters could also join the Democratic Party up to primary day to cast their ballots for Cutler.
Cutler wants his electoral fate to be decided on merits and principle. That has a much better chance of happening if he presents as one of two Democrats in a primary rather than as an independent who could split the vote and help secure another four years for Gov. Paul LePage.
But I could be wrong. I was wrong two weeks ago when I mistakenly suggested Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash offered a bill that would have sold the Blaine House. I apologize for the mistake.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: [email protected] Twitter: @demerittda