Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) was pretty clear in responding to a Republican Governors Association ad attacking him and not-so-subtly also boosting Independent candidate Eliot Cutler: that ad included an “outright lie.”
Michaud (pictured), in an interview with TPM, called the RGA ad, conspicuously without mention of the current governor running for re-election, Paul LePage (R), accuses Michaud of “giving your hard earned tax dollars to pay welfare to illegal immigrants.” That bit had Michaud especially ticked off.
“The fact that an [independent expenditure] can run a TV ad that says I support illegal immigrants on welfare is just ludicrous,” Michaud told TPM, adding he “never said that, don’t support it.” He continued that “what’s frustrating is we have to spend resources correcting an outright lie.”
It’s understandable why Republicans would take an approach that focuses on the independent candidate. Crosstabs from a recent Public Policy Polling survey sponsored by the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund suggested that Cutler’s presence in the race is sapping support away from Michaud and thereby helping LePage, whose favorable numbers are underwater.
Cutler, on Wednesday, made very clear to reporters at at a sudden press conference that he does not plan to drop out of the race. But he also said he was okay with his supporters backing another candidate. The Democratic Governors Association quickly emailed out a story titled “Cutler tells supporters to vote for other candidates.”
The RGA ad and Michaud’s response, even though he stressed in his interview with TPM that he’s focused on running a positive campaign, underscores the state of the messy general election of Maine’s gubernatorial race. There are three candidates: the blustery and outspoken LePage, Michaud, and Cutler, who’s managed to poll double digits and act as a serious spoiler in the race.
“He got the signatures he needed to be on the ballot and he has a right to be on the ballot and anytime you plan a campaign you plan it for the worst-case scenario and there were three of us qualified to be on the ballot and so I always expected it to be a three-way race,” Michaud said.
Lately, Republicans have made multiple attempts to try and use Cutler to prevent Michaud from defeating LePage. In a head-to-head matchup between just Michaud and LePage, the TPM Polltracker finds the Democratic congressman with a slim lead. But Republicans hope that that lead can be cut down with only a week before election day through Cutler, who just so happened to recently get a boost of $50,000 from Republican donors giving to a Pro-Cutler PAC (Cutler’s campaign maintained that the donors are longtime friends but Democrats called it a ploy to indirectly help LePage).
What’s more, this approach has also gotten Sen. Angus King (I-ME) into the mix, and not in the way an Independent senator who caucuses with Democrats would ideally like to be involved. Another part of the RGA ad attacked Michaud by highlighting that Sen. Angus King (I-ME), before he was senator, endorsed Cutler. The ad said that during his time in Maine’s legislature, Michaud supported legislation a new tax on social security. The ad said that “it was such a bad idea that then-Gov. Angus King vetoed it. No wonder independent King now endorses Eliot Cutler.”
But King told the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday that “these ads aren’t honest. They’re trying to promote someone else. It’s a left-handed way of campaigning…I just think it’s one more indication of where our politics has gone. We can’t have an open and honest discussion of the issues. Instead we’re trying to trick people.”
King added that he hasn’t appeared in a Cutler campaign ad in September but Cutler did use footage from King’s endorsement in campaign ads.
“They basically used the materials from my public statements and created the ad,” King told the Maine newspaper. “They didn’t ask me to do anything more than that.”
Michaud, in talking to TPM, tried to keep the focus on LePage. He stressed that his goal was to run a positive campaign and he didn’t directly attack Cutler which, according to Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt is because Cutler “is at 13 percent. This is a race between us and LePage.”
“When I first jumped in the race for governor I made it very clear I was going to run a positive campaign, I’m going to talk about my record both in the legislature, for Congress, and what I’m going to do if I’m elected governor,” Michaud said. “The governor has a terrible record as far as being governor in what he has done and people are tired of the partisanship and divisiveness that this governor has done over the last four years.”
But Michaud is also scoffing at the triangulation approach of trying to save LePage through Cutler.
“This ad is just one more example of their desperation,” he said. “Gov. LePage admitted that he needs Mr. Cutler to do better in order for him to win.”