Times Record: Cutler vs. Michaud in a Democratic primary (Jan. 24, 2013)

The central reality of this year’s Blaine House race is this: If three candidates stay in, Gov. Paul LePage will likely be re-elected.

Let’s agree this result would be unacceptable to upwards of 60 percent of Maine voters.

So here’s a short-term solution to the trainwreck of democracy represented by a LePage re-election: Eliot Cutler must re-enter the race as a Democrat and face off against U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

Cutler vs. Michaud for the right to take on LePage. Think about it.

Cutler, historically a Democrat, espouses progressive views on women’s reproductive health, same-sex marriage, renewable energy, gender discrimination and gun control. By earning the endorsement of voters within an established party, he could qualify for additional funds, burnish his credentials as a candidate with wide appeal and stake his claim as the progressive candidate in the Mid-coast and Greater Portland, where the election may well be decided.

Michaud would presumably welcome the opportunity to erase the memory of the Libby Mitchell campaign and cement his base as the party standard bearer by prevailing in a primary against Cutler.

For Michaud, the biggest difference in facing Cutler as a Democrat is that the campaign — already in full bloom anyway — would have to be aggressively moved up to assure victory in a primary in June. But the Michaud camp is swinging away anyway, having hit Cutler over his request for debates and his response to not getting the endorsement of EqualityMaine just within the last two weeks.

The result of a Cutler-Michaud primary would give Maine voters in November crystal clarity on their choice: LePage, or someone else.

If Maine had a ranked-choice voting system, we’d be considering the re-election of Gov. Cutler today, not encouraging him to run as a Democrat. But leaders of both parties realize, probably correctly, that instant-runoff elections would spell doom for the two-party system. It never even came to a vote in the Legislature. So here we are.

Cutler and Michaud both know they are appealing to the same field of voters — the vaunted “61 percent.” If they continue along the same path, though, they will divide that majority.

Cutler vs. Michaud for the right to take on LePage.

Will it happen? Probably not.

Cutler’s pride — some say his hubris — is palpable, and he had that unforeseen last-minute surge in 2010 to fool him into thinking he has more grassroots support than he actually does.

After all, he lost by less than 8,500 votes last time — approximately 1 percentage point. He’s said he wouldn’t run if he didn’t think he can win. Cutler obviously feels he can, indeed, win.

Michaud, meanwhile, has the party machine behind him and probably doesn’t feel that sharing a debate stage one-on-one with Cutler provides him that much upside. He’s also got large numbers of Cutler Democrats returning to the fold stung by four years of LePage.

Who knows what kind of deal was made to attract Michaud away from a six-figure job, guaranteed re-election and high committee status in Congress in favor of pursuing the lowest-paid governorship in the United States? Party bosses wouldn’t have snatched him from Congress — potentially losing the Second Congressional District seat to Republicans — without some guarantee of mounting a winning campaign.

One thing is certain. If the two men to continue to campaign as is, it will divide Maine’s majority and saddle the state with four more years of erratic, intemperate leadership backed by a slim group of extremists.

In a democracy, it’s not good when the winning candidate polls 40 percent or less. But until Maine progressives figure this out, that still appears to be exactly where we’re heading.

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