If Eliot Cutler only gets 32% against me, how can he possibly beat LePage?

Ethan Strimling

In a recent poll released by Public Policy Polling, there was a lot of interesting information gathered about the 2014 governor’s race. But nothing so interesting as what it said about independent Eliot Cutler’s chances. First, here are the highlights regarding the top three Democrats:

  • Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s second district in Congress, is the strongest in all five of the three-way general election match-ups that were tested. In a race between Michaud, Gov. Paul LePage and Cutler, Michaud was within 4 points of beating LePage, and he had the governor receiving his lowest overall vote total of 34 percent.
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is within 6 points of beating LePage, but very interestingly she pushes Cutler to his lowest vote total among all other contenders (down to 23 percent).
  • And former Gov. John Baldacci, while a bit further behind LePage than the others, has the Democratic nomination locked up if he chooses to run (leads all comers by 7 percent or more).

But perhaps the most significant news in the poll is about Cutler. In a straight-up, head-to-head race against LePage, Cutler would receive the fewest votes of all the match-ups. Michaud would beat LePage by 21 percent; Baldacci would beat him by 15; Pingree would win by 13; but Cutler only leads by 8. More significantly, the three Democrats are all comfortably over the magical 50-percent line, while Cutler is held to 49 percent. That means that he can’t lose a single vote, and he needs undecided voters to come his way to win. The others do not.

However, the most significant news for Cutler, and the one I found the most surprising, is what happened when he was tested against the likes of someone like me and Attorney General Janet Mills. While neither of us are Democratic slouches, neither have we run statewide races nor held federal office and hence cannot be counted as a top-tier candidate like the above three. About half the people know us, and about half of them like us. It would be expected that someone like Cutler, who is better known and has run statewide, would garner a ton of votes against folks like us (kind of how independent Angus King did against Democrat Cynthia Dill in the U.S. Senate election this fall).

But in this poll, when Cutler was tested against LePage in a three-way that listed Janet or me, he only received 32 percent of the vote and trailed LePage by five points. That means that Cutler starts the race five points behind LePage even when there is a Democrat in the race receiving the same or fewer votes than Democrat Libby Mitchell received in 2010.

In PPP’s polling a year ago, Cutler was beating LePage by 8 points in almost the exact same scenario. He has dropped 11 points since then. Needless to say, if I was working on his campaign, and I saw these numbers, I would definitely smell trouble and start to question whether he could actually win.

Posted by Ethan Strimling