Independent Eliot Cutler announced at an impromptu press conference Wednesday that Mainers should “vote their conscience” in the Nov. 4 election for governor, but he stopped short of withdrawing from the three-way race or urging Mainers to support another candidate.

Cutler said he detests the notion of releasing voters and plans to keep campaigning through Election Day.

However, he did acknowledge the current reality of the campaign, with multiple polls showing him running a distant third behind incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who are locked in a close race.

“I truly believe in democracy and the ultimate authority of voters to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason and I don’t think any voter, whether a supporter of mine or not, now needs or ever has needed my permission or my blessing to vote for one of my opponents,” Cutler said at a press conference at his Portland office. “Nevertheless, I want to reiterate what I said six months ago: Anyone who has supported me but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or by their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud should do so.”

The independent, who narrowly lost to LePage four years ago, has been unable to make any gains in independent public opinion polls to date.

Although his campaign has scaled back advertising in recent weeks, it did make a $75,000 buy late Tuesday and a political action committee supporting him spent another $100,000 on ads this week.

Supporters of Democrat Mike Michaud have been calling on Cutler to drop out of the race for weeks over fear that he will only help re-elect LePage if he stays in.

Those calls have been louder this week, particularly since the Republican Governors Association began running ads that criticize Michaud while also propping up Cutler.

Cutler spoke to those fears on Wednesday.

“Four years ago, I believed we had beaten back the politics of fear. I was wrong,” he said. “Indeed the politics of fear and negative ads have returned with a vengeance beyond my imagination … fears that have been amplified by more than $10 million in attack ads financed by special interest PACs that don’t give a damn about Maine’s future but only whether the winner of this election has a D or an R after his name.”

Cutler appeared both resigned and defiant.

“I am not standing down … and neither should those voters whose consciences compel them to cast a vote for me,” he said. “I am a realist about my chances, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to kow-tow to party politics and allow a bunch of polls to drown out the voices of thousands of Maine people who believe that standing for principle, ideals and ideas makes you an American and not a spoiler.”

The substance of the press conference was confusing enough to prompt Cutler’s campaign to issue a “Q&A” to reporters afterward to explain what he did and did not say.

His words will no doubt affect the race next week, but it’s not clear how.

Even if Cutler had officially dropped out of the race, his name would still be on the ballot. And unless he made a formal declaration to the Secretary of State’s Office announcing his withdrawal, anyone who casted an absentee ballot for him would not be able to switch their vote.

Campaigning in Kennebunk on Wednesday morning, Michaud said he wanted to hear what Cutler had to say before commenting.

However, he noted that he has always had an “open door” policy for Cutler supporters, and that he has accepted the independent candidate’s apology for attacks during the debates.

“I told him that should I be elected governor I would be open to his ideas and policies to move Maine forward,” he said, after giving a pep talk to more than two dozen supporters. “My interest has always been moving Maine forward. I don’t care whose ideas they are.”

He added, “Hopefully we will continue to get Eliot’s supporters.”

Alex Willette, spokesman for LePage’s campaign, largely dismissed Cutler’s remarks as more of the same from the independent candidate, and said he was confident LePage would win a second term.

“I’m sure he’s under a lot of pressure from the Democrats for him to drop out,” Willette said. “But at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. … Regardless of what the minutiae of what the background politics is, I think Maine voters are listening to what the governor is saying and we have a lot of momentum going into Tuesday.”

Four years ago, Cutler had overtaken the Democrat, Libby Mitchell, in the polls by this point. Many felt that if the election were held one week later, Cutler may have come out on top, but he lost to LePage by about 10,000 votes.

Cutler, 68, is a former environmental lawyer and former staff member to U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie and associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter.

He was a relative unknown in 2009 when he announced his candidacy for governor, but was well financed and well-spoken on the campaign trail and soon became a formidable candidate.

After he lost in 2010, Cutler maintained a relatively high profile in Maine, fueling speculation that he would try again four years later.

He also wrote a book called “A State of Opportunity” that has served as the basis for most of his policy initiatives this campaign.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 


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