AUGUSTA — Independent candidate Alan Caron plans to decide after Sunday’s debate whether to continue his bid for governor, his spokesman said Thursday.

A spokesman for Alan Caron said Thursday that Caron will decide after Sunday’s debate whether to withdraw from the race for governor.

Caron is still scheduled to participate in debates Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday with the other three candidates for governor. But the Freeport business owner and economic development consultant is under pressure to withdraw from the race because several polls show him trailing far behind the two perceived front-runners, Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody.

“It will be within a few days after Sunday’s debate,” Tom Bell, spokesman for Caron, said Thursday regarding the candidate’s timeline for making a decision. The four candidates are scheduled to debate live on the Maine Public television and radio stations starting at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Earlier this year, Caron called on non-viable candidates to “do the right thing” and withdraw from the race in order to “put the interests of Maine ahead of themselves.”

“If a candidate clearly cannot win the election by mid-October, they need to put the interests of Maine ahead of themselves and pull out. No wishy-washy stuff,” Caron wrote in a March 23 op-ed in the Portland Press Herald. “No arguments that major-party candidates have special privileges. Just do the right thing.”

“Here’s my pledge to Maine voters: If it is clear by mid-October that I cannot win the election, I will publicly withdraw from the race. Plain and simple.”

A second independent running for governor, state Treasurer Terry Hayes, plans to stay in the race until Election Day, even though she also has been trailing well behind Moody and Mills in the polls.

Caron is under increasing pressure – particularly on social media – to fulfill his earlier pledge to drop out to avoid the split-electorate that lifted Paul LePage to victory with just 38 percent of the vote in 2010. With less than two weeks until the election, tens of thousands of Maine voters already have cast absentee ballots.

While ranked-choice voting supporters had hoped the system would be used to help choose a governor with broader public support, voters will not have the ranked-choice option when casting ballots in the gubernatorial race because of constitutional conflicts. That is renewing concerns among Democratic and left-leaning voters that the two independents could have a “spoiler effect” by siphoning off votes from Mills, thereby leading to a Moody victory.

Caron announced his candidacy last November and has released some of the most detailed policy proposals of any candidate. In debates, he has highlighted his background rising from poverty to prosperity and his experience, while calling out LePage’s divisive governing style.

But Caron’s self-financed campaign has yet to catch fire as Mills and Moody, the national parties and interest groups dump millions of dollars into the race.

Caron’s recent posts on Facebook are filled with comments from individuals citing his pledge in March as they urge him to withdraw.

In 2010, LePage defeated Eliot Cutler by 38 percent to 36 percent with Democrat Libby Mitchell pulling in 19 percent. Four years later, some people accused Cutler of playing the spoiler by drawing votes away from Democratic nominee Mike Michaud, who also lost to LePage, 43 percent to 48 percent.

In an email message to supporters earlier this week, Caron acknowledged the spoiler concerns when he wrote about the “many heartfelt notes, emails and phone messages over the last few weeks” from people urging him to “join forces with another candidate.”

“Throughout four decades of working to make Maine a better place, I have tried to do two things,” Caron wrote. “One is to promote a positive, optimistic and inclusive vision of what this state can become. The other is to put the people of this state ahead of myself or any group. People who know me, or have worked with me through the years, understand and trust that I will do the right thing for Maine, as best I can, as I always have.”

Some also have called on Hayes to withdraw for the same “spoiler” reasons. But Hayes has no intention of dropping out.

In fact, her campaign is pointing to three October polls showing Mills with an 8-percentage-point lead over Moody as proof that “Moody does not have a path to victory.” They have even begun distributing “Conservatives for Hayes” signs in recent days, hoping to cut into Moody’s support within the Republican base.

“We are hearing from a lot of Republicans and right-leaning independents who are trying to figure out what to do,” Hayes campaign manager Kyle Bailey said. “Maine’s next governor will either be Janet Mills or Terry Hayes, and that is the choice Maine voters face.”

Hayes is the only candidate still in the race to utilize the Clean Election system that provides gubernatorial candidates up to $2 million in public campaign financing in exchange for forgoing private contributions. She has run a positive campaign, pledging to bridge the partisan divide in Augusta.

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Both the Mills and Moody campaigns expressed confidence headed into the final two-week stretch.

“Shawn Moody is focused on meeting as many voters as possible before Election Day and selling his message of job creation and economic growth,” campaign spokeswoman Lauren LePage said in a statement. “We are confident that as the only candidate in the race with over 40 years of executive experience creating jobs and growing Maine’s economy, Maine people will agree that we cannot turn Augusta back over to the politicians.”

“Janet is the only candidate prepared to lead Maine in a new, better direction,” Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said in a statement. “The voters will ultimately decide this race, and in these last critical weeks Janet is focused on them and talking about how we can work together to ensure that Maine people have affordable, high-quality health care and a strong public school system for every Maine child. That is how we will win this race.”

Ballots for the Nov. 6 elections already have been printed and sent to local clerks, who in turn are distributing them to voters interested in casting absentee ballots. That means any candidate who withdraws at this point will still appear on the ballot but votes for them will not be counted, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office said.

Local election staff will include notes with any future absentee ballots notifying voters about any withdrawals. Clerks also will post notices at the polling places on Election Day if any candidates drop out of the race.

More than 40,000 Mainers already had cast votes via absentee ballot as of Monday. State law does not allow voters who already have cast absentee ballots to obtain a new sheet if a candidate withdraws.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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