Voters belong to no one

Already the beat drum of political rhetoric has become deafening. “If Paul LePage wins a second term, it is because Eliot Cutler split the vote, and handed him his re-election.”

It feels, almost, that liberals are pre-butting an eventual Michaud defeat, so that when the time comes and they are gnashing their teeth at LePage’s second inauguration, they will have an excuse to point to, to explain why the Democrats have lost their — if you count Shenna Bellows’ impending and embarrassing loss to Susan Collins this year — fifth consecutive humiliating, frequently lopsided statewide loss.

But Eliot Cutler’s voters belong to no one, save Eliot Cutler.

The fantasy of the “61 percent,” a mythical voting bloc of people militantly opposed to Paul LePage, has perpetuated itself ever since the 2010 election, when members of the 19 percent who voted for Libby Mitchell started printing off bumper stickers.

These sanctimonious curmudgeons appointed themselves the voice of the opposition, without stopping to consider what that “opposition” actually looked like.

If they did, they’d have found that 6 percent of those votes were for Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, who were generally conservative, and shared a number of agenda items and concerns with LePage. They’d have found some Mitchell voters who voted for her but ended up grudgingly liking the issues that LePage tackled in his first term (yes, they do exist).

And they would have found Eliot Cutler voters, who are a great deal more complicated than liberals want to give them credit for. While some of them were undoubtedly tactically minded and smelled the stench of political death on Mitchell, a huge percentage of them had their own agenda in mind when they supported Cutler.

Enter 2014.

Right now, Cutler is polling in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 percent, give or take. Liberals are continually making the claim that this share of the vote belongs to them, and it is only Cutler’s presence in the race that is preventing these people from voting for Michaud. If he would just get out, they say, Michaud would run away with the race.

I wonder, then, what is preventing these people from being Michaud voters right now? It is clear, at least at this moment in time, that Michaud is in a stronger position against LePage, and if these Cutler people are truly stealth Michaud voters, what are they waiting for? Why not support him right now, to get LePage out of office?

The truth, of course, is that Eliot Cutler’s voters belong to Cutler himself, and they belong to him for a variety of reasons.

Some of them hate both parties and want to support a strong candidate who stands against them.

Some of them are leftists who consider Michaud to be a weak, substance-less, empty suit and prefer supporting an intelligent, experienced candidate instead.

Some of them are Republicans who perhaps like LePage’s agenda, but not his personality, and as such see Cutler as a far better alternative than Michaud.

And, some are true independents who are voting for Cutler because they like him, his ideas and his demeanor.

The polling has repeatedly shown this to be true. In the most recent Pan Atlantic SMS Omnibus Poll, for instance, Cutler’s share of support from each party was 17 percent of Democratic voters, 19.2 percent of Republican voters, and 21.6 percent of independent voters.

When you look at polling that asks what would happen if Cutler were to drop out of the election, you are seeing that the Michaud landslide is not present. In a September poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, in a two-way race, Michaud was narrowly beating LePage 50 percent to 46 percent. In the same Omnibus poll I mentioned above, the two were tied.

Indeed, there’s an easy case to be made that many of the non-LePage voters actually rightly should belong to the governor. When you poll LePage’s agenda, virtually every single issue, be it welfare reform, hospital debt repayment or tax cuts, polls in the 60 percent or higher range. That is broad and enthusiastic support for a conservative agenda in Maine.

Here’s the whole point. Maine is an eclectic, finicky state, politically speaking. There are conservative Democrats in the north who love guns, hunting, and hate welfare. There are Republicans in the south who have liberal positions on a number of subjects. There are independents everywhere who pick and choose issues and candidates they like from a variety of sources.

Eliot Cutler has convinced nearly 20 percent of Mainers to vote for him, and that number could very easily climb higher, perhaps a lot higher, on Election Day.

If it does, there is one reason. The same reason people will be voting for Paul LePage or Mike Michaud. Because the candidate convinced voters he was the best choice.  Everything else is just spin.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.