First Hints of Michaud Momentum

Bridget Brown | BDN

There has been a lot of political news over the past few days. In addition to the marathon session of veto votes in the State House yesterday, which saw the final approval of the state budget and more aggressive statements from LePage (and some internecine conflict between him and other Republicans), we also had the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA, Prop 8 and the Voting Rights Act, a battle in Texas on women’s rights and the announcement of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

The most important news for Maine’s gubernatorial race, however, may actually have come in the form of a blog post by Steve Mistler at the Portland Press Herald. Mistler noticed that Bonnie Porta, previously an Eliot Cutler supporter and fundraiser (and wife of Robert C.S. Monks, another big donor and treasurer for the Cutler campaign in 2010) will serve as treasurer for Congressman Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign committee.

There have been rumors of prominent Maine donors who supported Cutler in 2010 abandoning him for Michaud, and this may be the first sign of that diaspora. We’ll know more when the candidates release their first campaign finance reports.

The money may not be much of an issue for Cutler. He’s wealthy enough to self-finance his campaign and a majority of his early funding in 2010 came from contributors outside of the state of Maine (many of them contacts from his days as a corporate lawyer and lobbyist), but it does present a problem for a candidate attempting to show support from politically moderate and progressive Mainers.

As Rebekah Metzler notes in a recent post, “momentum or perceived momentum [are] critical to this a race.” The first task for both Michaud and Cutler is to define themselves as the real alternative to LePage. As in 2010, voters will likely eventually throw their support to the one they see as having the best chance of winning, perhaps even to a greater degree and at an earlier point during the campaign.

In addition to these donors putting Michaud’s campaign on a solid financial footing, they also convey a messaging advantage. The more Cutler spends of his own money, or brings in funds from out of state, the more he reinforces what Michaud will likely attempt to make a central theme of the campaign: the idea of the former millworker facing off against the former corporate lawyer (and against LePage, the former corporate executive). It’s a message of class and identity and who really has your back. We’ve already seen a preview of this in the debate over the minimum wage.

Despite being in the House for a decade, Michaud seems to have maintained his working-class credibility. The author of a new book on the prevalence of millionaires in Congress even used him as an example of the rare feat of a regular guy making it in Washington.

More good news for Michaud came this morning in the form of a survey released by the Democratic Party. Even if we allow for a few points of bias because it’s an internal poll, it still shows Michaud ahead of Cutler and virtually even with LePage. Early polls aren’t always indicative of final results, and a lot can happen before November 2014, but Michaud seems to be in the right place and doing the right things to run a solid campaign.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.