Portland and several of its suburbs have produced most of the contributions to candidates in this year’s election for Maine governor, but some of the more telling numbers may lie in smaller, less affluent communities, according to a Portland Press Herald analysis of the latest campaign finance reports.
While Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud has raised the most money and drawn heavily from virtually every corner of the state, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s top contributing communities are concentrated in central Maine — particularly in Augusta and Waterville — and independent Eliot Cutler has raised almost nothing outside of Maine’s relatively affluent southern and midcoast areas.
The Michaud campaign is using the breadth of his donor base to show that he continues to have support in the rural and largely conservative 2nd Congressional District, which he now represents, and that he is gaining support in the more liberal 1st District.
“It’s clear there’s only one candidate in this race with the momentum, the grassroots support and the resources to beat Gov. LePage this November,” Michaud campaign manager Matt McTighe said in a written statement touting fundraising numbers that were released Tuesday.
LePage’s campaign downplayed the significance of the fundraising patterns.
“I do not believe the voters of Maine are interested in â€˜inside baseball,’ ” LePage’s consultant Brent Littlefield said in an email Friday. “What we are focused on is how to continue improving the economy to build on the 17,000 new jobs created since Governor LePage took office and continued welfare reforms.”
Waterville and Augusta are LePage’s top donors, contributing $41,395 and $35,935, respectively. LePage was mayor of Waterville before he became governor in 2010.
LePage is also cleaning up in Jackman, a town of less than 900 people in western Somerset County. Contributors in Jackman have given LePage $18,750, while Michaud and Cutler have raised nothing there.
Cutler’s spokeswoman, Crystal Canney, said she was not surprised that Michaud, “a career politician,” had a broader base of financial support, especially in the 2nd Congressional District, where he has been politically active for more than three decades.
Canney said Cutler, who is mounting his second campaign for governor as an independent, doesn’t have the same advantages of candidates who are affiliated with political parties.
“Independent campaigns don’t start with massive lists, party chairs, or special interest groups, who do the majority of the fundraising work,” Canney said. “We don’t have a party making calls or sending mailings on our behalf. Furthermore, those who regularly give money to campaigns, more often than not, are politically involved in a party.”
Early polling has consistently shown LePage and Michaud in a dead heat, with Cutler in a distant third place.
Lewiston is considered a bellwether community, with a large Franco-American population that has supported both LePage and Michaud, both Franco-Americans, in past elections.
If early fundraising is any indication, Michaud has few worries. So far, the Democrat has raised $14,876 in Lewiston. That’s more than the combined total of LePage, who has raised $5,900, and Cutler, who has raised $5,175.
The story is similar across the Androscoggin River in Auburn, where Michaud has raised $19,158, to LePage’s $7,950 and Cutler’s $7,425.
Cutler, who has personally financed about 41 percent of his campaign, trails his rivals in fundraising in most parts of the state, especially the 2nd Congressional District.
For example, Cutler hasn’t raised a dime in the Aroostook County town of Caribou, while Michaud has raised $1,295 and LePage has raised $1,000.
That is probably why a political action committee, Campaign for Maine, is prepping a $125,000 television ad buy for Cutler throughout the state.
The PAC’s director, Betsy Smith, said the ads are intended to introduce Cutler to voters in hopes of easing the nerves of potential donors who don’t want to split the vote with Michaud and put LePage back in office.
Meanwhile, Cutler’s campaign office in Bangor, which opened Jan. 22, is rarely staffed and largely empty. A sign on the window tells interested volunteers to call Portland.
Cutler’s fundraising in Bangor, where he grew up, is also behind his opponents’ totals, which have nearly doubled Cutler’s total of $14,268.
To the south, it’s a different story.
People in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Yarmouth have given Cutler $290,850 — that’s $36,845 more than they have given Michaud and $197,411 more than LePage. Those margins grow with the $400,000 that Cutler has loaned his campaign.
LePage is also outraising his opponents in many smaller, rural towns in southern Maine. For example, Berwick residents have given LePage $8,100, but have not donated to his opponents.