Phil: OK, Strim. For all intents and purposes, the field is set for governor next year. In the three corners of the ring we have Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, and attorney and independent Eliot Cutler. Shall we do a little handicapping?
Ethan: Well, since Election Day is only 501 short days away, why not?
Phil: How about we take each candidate and walk through what he has to do to win.
Ethan: You want me to give up my secret strategy on how to re-elect LePage?
Phil: I think we’ll be taking that advice with a grain of salt. How about we save that brilliance for later. Let’s start with Cutler.
Ethan: Cutler’s strategy must revolve around how to be in second place by Labor Day, 2014. Like 2010, a coalescing will occur among Democrats and independents. Only this time it will be much earlier, and Cutler will have to make his move sooner than he did last time.
Phil: Makes sense. To get there I think he needs to tell voters about his evolution from liberal to independent. Give poignant examples of his youthful liberal beliefs that haven’t worked and how age and private sector experience have prepared him to change the direction of Maine’s future.
Ethan: I think you’re going in the wrong direction. Cutler has to understand that this race is really between him and Michaud. He should not be trying to get any of LePage’s votes by showing his conservative stripes — because LePage’s voters aren’t leaving. Cutler has to exclusively run against Michaud.
Phil: I disagree. Cutler was gaining in the waning days of the 2010 election because Democrats were voting against Libby Mitchell, rater than agreeing with him. He should embrace the policy issues where he agrees with LePage yet would have handled them differently to garner broader support from legislators. This will pull from the soft LePage supporters who don’t like his style of diplomacy.
Ethan: Not sure LePage has much “soft” support, and if Cutler moves right, he leaves a lot of votes on the table for Michaud. Wouldn’t people pick the experienced moderate Michaud over the untested conservative Cutler, making Cutler a third place finisher?
Phil: It would, except Michaud has a lot of explaining to do, especially in the first congressional district. He has talked about the need for fiscal discipline at the state and federal level, yet he owns a 30-year track record of supporting more government, which is the emerging crisis for the next generation. Michaud needs to prepare for a Cutler and LePage media barrage hammering him for all the out-of-control spending he has participated in to get re-elected annually.
Ethan: I am not sure it is going to work to attack Michaud for bringing home the bacon. Are they really going to say, “Vote against Mike because he got funding for Maine veterans”?
Phil: Veterans aren’t bacon. It’s all the other spending he has engaged in to curry favor for re-election.
Ethan: What? Like roads and schools and ships at Bath Iron Works?
Phil: More like Obamacare and multiple millions of federally borrowed money sprinkled around the second district that have contributed to our trillion dollar deficit. So, I hate to even ask, but what’s your version of LePage’ s path to re-election?
Ethan: I actually think LePage’s best tactic is to ignore both of his opponents. He should visit his base supporters and throw them meat as often as possible to secure his 35 percent. Then all he needs is 5 percent from elsewhere to achieve victory. Because polling shows that many people support his policies but not his delivery, he should pound away with: “You may not like how I do it, but at least I got it done.”
Phil: Wow, you are a closet Republican. I agree. Maybe we can become wealthy running campaigns.
Ethan: I’m not saying that strategy will win, but it is clearly his best shot. For Michaud, he has to focus his energy on ignoring LePage’s voters, securing the Democratic base, and proving he is a solid alternative to snag a chunk of Cutler’s independents. Being the best alternative includes articulating a clear vision for Maine that shows the direction he will take us away from LePage, with a style that is different from LePage, which will speak to Cutler’s supporters.
Phil: But Michaud’s problem will be that he must find a way to run against his past — because promising voters that Maine’s bright future will emerge by doubling down on his past record of spending isn’t going to produce different results.
Ethan: I think you are looking at him through Republican eyes, not the eyes of Democrats and independents who will ultimately need to elect him. Republicans may try to make Michaud all about yesterday, but that will be a mistake. That will mean Michaud is winning and LePage is trying to make the race about someone other than him.
Phil: Therein lies the challenge you acknowledged, Cutler and Michaud need to keep the other from earning more than 20 percent of the vote. Both will need to explain how they will do a better job handling the issues, which 65 percent Mainer’s agree with LePage on. LePage, in turn, must stick to his agenda and show voters, beginning now as the Legislature winds down to adjournment, that he has evolved into a more statesman-like communicator.
Ethan: Is that before or after the Governor’s latest comment about Vaseline and Senator Troy Jackson?