Having trouble picking your favorite candidate for Maine governor?

So is Shawn Moody.

“My mother used to have this statement,” mused Moody, 54, in an interview Friday. “She’d say, ‘A mind is like an umbrella. It only functions when it’s open.’ ”

Four years ago, as winter gave way to spring, he was known to many as the self-made success story behind Moody’s Collision Centers, an auto-repair business now with eight locations scattered across southern Maine. At the same time, he was known to nobody as a guy who seriously thought he could become Maine’s next chief executive.

Yet despite his utter lack of political credentials, Moody quietly got his name on the ballot as an independent. And in a race that to this day is sliced and diced down to the decimal point – Republican Gov. Paul LePage, 37.6 percent, independent Eliot Cutler, 35.9 percent, Democrat Libby Mitchell, 18.8 percent – Moody turned many a political pundit’s head by winning over a small-but-significant 5 percent of the 580,538 Mainers who voted.

Just last week, in the last of his three blog posts handicapping the already sizzling 2014 gubernatorial race between LePage, Cutler and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, political consultant Dennis Bailey suggested that Moody (for whom Bailey worked as an adviser) could have upended LePage’s victory had he pulled out at the last minute and thrown his support to a late-surging Cutler.

(Moody’s take: His supporters were not what he’d consider “Cutler people.” Rather, they’d have redistributed themselves “pretty evenly” among the three top candidates and thus not necessarily changed the outcome.)

So what says Moody now as the current race kicks into high gear earlier than ever? And while he has no plans to jump back in this time, how will he respond should LePage, Michaud or Cutler come asking for his support?

“Actually, all three candidates have done that,” said Moody.

And?

“I’m flattered,” he said without a hint of coyness. “I think it’s great.”

It’s also proof positive that Moody, by accident or design, tapped into an important electoral vein back when he launched a statewide political campaign without a clue as to how it’s done.

With his aw-shucks demeanor, his deep-rooted aversion to mudslinging and his penchant for quoting his mother (He invoked her thusly during a particularly contentious debate just before the last election: “She used to say to me, ‘Shawn, you can try hard to grow to be the tallest tree in the forest, or you can take a chainsaw and cut all the other trees down.’ Well, it’s time to put our chainsaws down.”), Moody may well have emerged as the top “second choice” had Maine used ranked-choice voting to elect a governor.

“Imagine that,” he chuckled last week. “Moody becomes governor with 5 percent of the vote!”

Now imagine this: A 30-second TV endorsement spot, sometime between now and November, in which a still smiling, still boyish Shawn Moody urges Mainers to vote for (fill in the candidate).

All of which makes him a good political barometer, if not a candidate, as he bides his time deciding whom to support this fall. As Moody goes, so goes a potentially pivotal slice of the electorate who found him to be a breath of fresh air in a political arena that had more than a few Maine voters otherwise holding their noses.

“I was friends with all of them – even their wives and families,” recalled Moody of his opponents. “And I almost felt like I was in some ways a conduit or an ambassador, if you will, to keeping things civil as possible.… It will be interesting not having that person in the field this time.”

How so?

“I think it’s going to be gloves off, I really do.”

As a small-business man, Moody finds himself philosophically aligned with LePage on matters economic, although he’s yet to see the “significant sweep in terms of regulatory change” that the governor made a cornerstone of his last campaign.

Beyond that, however, there’s the personality thing.

“I probably agree with his policies more than I disagree with them,” said Moody. “But you still have to get back to a person’s ability to articulate the message and fight the battle – but to do it in a way that there’s some civility and respect.”

How about Cutler?

“I like Eliot,” Moody replied. “I’ve talked with him and I would consider us friends. But if there were ever two people who were cut from completely different cloths, it’s Eliot and I. It’s ‘hobo’ and ‘elite,’ you know?”

His early impression of Michaud as a contender for the Blaine House?

“I think Mike is very likable. He’s reached out and we’ve had a good conversation. But I don’t know yet as a gubernatorial candidate where he’s going to stand on some of these key issues. What is he going to do to help create jobs? That’s the key right there.”

That, at the very least, should get Moody a lot of mail in the coming days as LePage, Michaud and Cutler deluge him with their “visions” of where Maine needs to go and how each is going to get us there.

As for Moody tossing it all aside and jumping back into the fray himself, don’t hold your breath.

The passion is still there: Motivated to run in the first place by the 2008 financial meltdown and the multibillion-dollar corporate bailouts that followed, Moody believes now more than ever that “big business and big government are sitting at the same table – and that’s a table you and I aren’t sitting at.”

At the same time, as a successful business owner who shares his good fortune with his “co-workers” through an employee stock ownership plan, Moody frowns on “businesspeople who have the biggest boat in the lake while they don’t even provide health insurance for their co-workers. I’m not OK with that. That’s not right.”

Still, for all his unblinking idealism, Moody learned a thing or two last time around – starting with the stark reality that an independent, statewide campaign takes years, not months, to build from scratch.

Meaning he might someday try again?

“Looking forward, I really think I’m going to be compelled to run – not this time, but in 2016 or maybe in 2018 – for a high-level position,” said Moody.

Meanwhile, he’ll watch and listen as LePage, Michaud and Cutler duke it out over the next eight months. And when it feels right, he’ll pick up the phone.

“I feel like I could call any one of them right now and have a conversation with them,” he said.

Shawn Moody as kingmaker?

Not even close.

But never underestimate a guy who, even as he lost an election, won himself a ton of friends.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]