Times Record: Maine Dems: Do not run for governor in 2014 (Jan. 23, 2013)

Democrats should not attempt to win the Blaine House in 2014.

That message is clearer today than it was after Election Day 2010, when Paul LePage was elected governor with 39 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Yesterday, a respected polling firm released the results of an early look at the race for the Blaine House in 2014.

It is not kind to Democrats, who enjoyed great success this past November in producing a legislative check on LePage’s far-right agenda but who have stumbled — badly — in the last two statewide contests.

The bottom line, the polling outfit said: LePage will likely win, unless independent Eliot Cutler doesn’t run, or if he does and Democrats embrace him.

The latter scenario should sound familiar to anyone who followed last year’s race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Maine — including national Democratic leaders. Just replace “King” with “Cutler,” and go from there.

Given the numbers and the cast of characters, it is the best way forward (again) for Maine Democrats to simply bow out of this one.

The Public Policy Poll report says “Paul LePage is one of the most unpopular governors in the country. Only 39 percent of voters approve of him to 55 percent who disapprove.”

But.

“There’s a decent chance that he might get re-elected next year,” the polling firm said, “for the same reason that he won in the first place: a three-way split with a Democrat and an independent that allows him to scrape by with less than 40 percent of the vote.”

The pollsters tested five contests that included LePage, Cutler and an array of different Democrats. In each one, LePage comes out ahead, even though he gets less support than he did in 2010 — in the range of 34 to 37 percent.

Only two of the Democrats tested — U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree — polled strongly enough even to finish second; the other three — former Gov. John Baldacci, Attorney General Janet Mills and former state Rep. Ethan Strimling — each placed third in a three-way contest.

It’s not a complicated situation. Until Maine adopts an open primary system or ranked voting, it will see contests that produce leaders elected by a relative few.

With a blowhard like LePage in office, Democrats may want to fall on their sword, talk with Cutler and punt on a statewide candidate for the second straight time.

It sounds odd, but if progressives really want to move Maine ahead in 2014, they will shelve their second-tier candidates, forego an embarrassing result and hope to fill substantive administrative roles within a Cutler administration.

It’s true that any head-to-head race would be bad news for LePage. In this scenario, the governor polls behind all four potential Democrats, by at least 8 points — and as much as 21 against Michaud, 57 percent to 36 percent.

The problem is, we’re probably not going to see a head-to-head race in 2014.

So Democrats, ask yourselves: If Cutler runs, can one of your top-tier candidates beat him?

If he or she cannot, can the party withstand finishing third in a three-way race for the third straight time?

Worst of all, can it countenance four more years being called an “idiot”?

This piece was posted at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22 for publication in the Jan. 23 editions of The Times Record of Brunswick, Maine. It was edited at 1:24 to make minor changes in grammar and to correct a typo, and at 2:30 to make substantive changes to content.

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