Yesterday, Eliot Cutler‘s own release made it clear. In the words of Ted O’Meara: “The Republican attack line since the Primary has been that Eliot is ‘just a Democrat masquerading as independent.’”
This is the biggest perception Cutler is now, has been, and will be running against as he works to win this election.
And it already is very much the perception right now, although it is hardly just the Republican attack line. At this point it is the book that has been written on Cutler by Republicans, independents, media figures, and even some Democrats. For a while now, the buzz circulating around Cutler – understandably – is that he is a lifelong Democrat who is attempting to convince the electorate that he is in reality a non-partisan independent.
His oft-pointed-to conversion to the Republican party in 2006 was to support and help Peter Mills – which in and of itself isn’t going to endear himself to most of the conservative base who distrust Mills. After Mills’ defeat in the 2006 primary, he then unenrolled from all parties. But what has kept people chattering about Cutler being a “Democrat in sheep’s clothing” has been the subsequent financial activity after his conversion.
Prior to 2006 while he was a Democrat, Cutler donated to a host of Democratic politicians (Bill Bradley for president, Wesley Clark for president, John Kerry for president, Ron Wyden for Senate, Tom Allen for Senate in various years prior to 2008, Mike Michaud for Congress, etc) and interest groups (DNC).
- 06/07/2006 – Abigail Holman for Maine House – $100
- 09/10/2006 – Tom Allen for Senate – $2000
- 09/26/2006 – Harry Mitchell for Congress – $1000
- 10/11/2006 – Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – $1000
- 06/24/2007 – Tom Allen for Senate – $2300
- 01/31/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $2000
- 03/18/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $2000
- 04/10/2008 – Adam Cote for Congress – $500
- 06/12/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $1700
- 06/12/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $2000
- 06/13/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $500
- 06/13/2008 – Barack Obama for president – $500
- 09/02/2008 – Chellie Pingree for Congress – $250
One caveat: I did not include what I consider to be non-partisan trade associations or legal PACs, or anything else that wouldn’t really betray much of a political persuasion.
So, after his Republican conversion, and then his subsequent unenrolling from parties, Cutler continued to donate money to – with one exception – Democrats and Democrats alone. Given his pre-2006 donation history in which the only Republican donation I could find was once to Olympia Snowe, this fits the same pattern.
Adding this with his prior work history for a Democratic United States Senator (Ed Muskie) and a Democratic president (Jimmy Carter), it is not difficult to see why this particular description of Cutler – that of a lifelong Democrat “masquerading” as an independent – had caught on among most observers.
This is why last week, when discussing high profile Democratic endorsements of Cutler, I said:
And while Cutler undoubtedly would be helped by more of these cross party endorsements, what he really needs are some high profile rogue Republicans to break away from LePage and line up behind him. A narrative is quickly being written about him as a career Democrat who primarily hurts Mitchell and doesn’t necessarily appeal to center-right voters. A few visible endorsements from the right would certainly help reverse that.
Obviously the Cutler campaign recognized this, and yesterday took the first step toward trying to counter-balance that narrative.
Cutler’s release named a number of Republicans who have signed on to his campaign:
- Capt. Bob Peacock of Eastport, a harbor pilot and businessman who also serves as Eastport City Council President
- Tim Hussey of Kennebunk, CEO of the six-generation family-owned Hussey Seating Company of North Berwick
- Andrew Hamilton of Bangor, a partner in the Eaton Peabody law firm
- Tom Lizotte of Dover-Foxcroft, Chairman of the Piscataquis County Commissioners
- Tanya Pereira of Hampden, an economic developer
- Gordon Smith of East Winthrop, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association and former member of the Republican National Committee
- Jonathan LaBonte of Auburn, Androscoggin County Commissioner and executive director of Androscoggin Land Trust
- Al Bancroft and Mark Bancroft of South Paris, founders and owners, Bancroft Contracting Corp.
- Karen Brown-Mohr of Portland, government affairs executive and former four-term Republican legislator from Bethel
- Horace “Hoddy” Hildreth, Jr., of Falmouth, chairman of Diversified Communications and former Republican state senator, candidate for Congress and son of former Republican governor, the late Horace Hildreth, Sr.
- Albert B. Glickman of Cape Elizabeth, an attorney, real estate developer, investor, and philanthropist who has served on numerous charitable boards in Maine and across the country and has been a generous supporter of Republican candidates and committees. Mr. Glickman also is a former chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.
- Edward S. “Ted” O’Meara, Jr., of South Portland, Cutler’s campaign manager and former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, member of the Republican National Committee and candidate for Congress
The list is not unimpressive, but does have its shortfalls. It is mostly a collection of business owners and former lawmakers, and there are no current Republican House or Senate office holders or candidates on the list. As far as I can tell, the only current Republican elected official here is Jon LaBonte (full disclosure, Jon is a very good friend of mine), who is a County Commissioner.
The absence of more high profile Republican lawmakers isn’t much a surprise – indeed, the endorsements Cutler has received from sitting Democrat legislators is more of a surprise. Endorsements like this can quickly get you blackballed in party politics, so they very rarely happen, and as I discussed last week, they tend to happen for complicated reasons.
Still, while this is most certainly a good start, Cutler is going to need some stronger Republican or conservative backing to really make something like this stick. Endorsements show what type of people are attracted to a candidate, and this reads like a Rolodex list of business contacts (with a couple exceptions) Cutler has more than a movement of center-right support lining up behind him.
In the end, Cutler is going to have a much more difficult time convincing the Maine voter – particularly those in the center to center-right coalition – that he has their interests in mind than Angus King had in 1994.
While it is true that King was also a lifelong Democrat prior to his run for Governor, he did not have the long career in Democratic politics that Cutler did, nor (to my knowledge) did he have the long history of financial support to the Democratic party and its candidates that Cutler continued to have, even after his registration changes. He also had a television personality and easygoing, seemingly non-partisan attitude that had been slowly built up over a course of years. Cutler, by contrast, is mostly being introduced to the Maine voter now and can quickly be defined by his opponents with a limited ability to counterpunch.
In short, King wrote the previously empty book on himself before he even ran, while everyone – including his opponents – is adding more to an already written book on Cutler now. As such his hill is a much steeper one to climb to build a non-partisan persona.
Do not, however, count him short. Given a growth of support among more on the right – especially if he can nab some higher profile supporters on the right – and the advocacy of some of the right’s pet causes (something he has already tried to do with charter schools), he may be able to forge a powerful coalition that could threaten to win the election.
Whether he can do that in a wave election like this one, however, remains to be seen.