Ethan: Did you see Cutler’s “deal” with the voters?
Phil: I did. He basically said, stick with me until the last minute. If you don’t think I can win, bail on Election Day. It’s an interesting tactic.
Ethan: It is. At first I didn’t like it. But as I think about it, it may be very smart.
Phil: How so?
Ethan: Bobby Kennedy always said, “Hang a lantern on your problem.” By that he meant, in politics you shouldn’t run from your liability. Put some light on it, show you can handle it, and turn it into a strength. Jack Kennedy took this to heart and made those who attacked his Catholicism into the bad guys.
Phil: A move that helped him become president. However, I am not seeing how Cutler’s move could help him become governor. From my vantage point he sounds weak.
Ethan: It does sound a little weak. Plus, it sounds like he is trying to absolve himself of responsibility by ultimately saying it will be the voter’s fault, not his, if LePage gets re-elected.
Phil: What’s wrong with that?
Ethan: Well, for 60 percent of the public, it’s a nightmare. Which is why Cutler had to find a way to discuss the elephant in the room: splitting the vote. And, while I don’t think this tactic will win him many votes, I do think it takes the heat off for awhile. For that reason I think it was smart.
Phil: I think when you run for office you run to win. You don’t try to make deals with voters and give yourself an escape hatch if things aren’t going your way. In the end, you must show you are on your way to victory and prepared to assume the duties of governor.
Ethan: I agree. He is clearly trying to be able to say that if he pulls enough votes to re-elect LePage, it won’t be his fault. True courage and selflessness would be to say that he’ll get out if he is under a certain threshold with a week to go. It would also help protect his reputation, should LePage still end up winning.
Phil: You are overlooking a key influence on the election for governor, that being Mike Michaud having a positive image in southern Maine from afar, so to speak. What may be a game changer is when southerners get to know Michaud on a personal-style level they may flock elsewhere, perhaps to Cutler.
Ethan: I actually think one of Mike’s greatest strengths with voters is his personal style. He comes across as very genuine. But you are correct in believing that Cutler is hoping people will shift away. That said, the curious angle may be that he thinks Republicans will shift away from LePage. Cutler has been taking a number of more conservative stances lately, stating that raising the state minimum wage would put Maine at a disadvantage, suggesting that the estate tax on the wealthy should be cut, claiming that drug tests might be necessary for those on welfare and asserting thousands are committing welfare fraud. Stances like these are more in line with trying to pull Republicans.
Phil: Boy, he’s got a tough battle if he thinks he can pull LePage’s base. They are as rock solid as ever.
Ethan: Agreed, although if you noticed in the last Rasmussen poll that had the race 40-40-14, Cutler was actually taking more Republicans than Democrats within his 14 percent.
Phil: These polls are indicators of how people think on that day. What they don’t reveal is how actual voters feel and what would cause them to change their vote before November, which is years away in political reality.
Ethan: I realize your people don’t want to even consider that Cutler might be pulling from your base (since he is your best hope at splitting the Democratic-leaning vote), but his positions are becoming markedly more conservative than last time.
Phil: How does a disciple of Jimmy Carter now become a conservative? I’m pretty sure smaller, more efficient government voters will have a hard time believing Eliot has changed his political stripes.
Ethan: Well, Angus King went from pulling Republicans from Susan Collins in 1994 to pulling Democrats from Cynthia Dill in 2012 without too much shifting.
Phil: Well, if Cutler has changed his stripes, he needs to be bolder and declare his new philosophy. Of course, he then risks losing the conservative Democrat and moderate Republican.
Ethan: How so? Those are the people I think he gains. Especially the moderate Republicans like you.
Phil: Because he would then have to send mixed messages. Nothing drives moderates away faster than a candidate who tells people what they want to hear that day.
Ethan: That drives people away from politics, no matter your philosophy.
Phil: He has written a book, issued policy and position papers on everything but cutting taxes. Now his philosophical DNA has suddenly changed? I think he needs to keep reminding voters that he is the reasonable guy in the middle while he awaits the LePage and Michaud war to unfold.
Ethan: And unfold it will.