Over the weekend, registered Democrats in the Portland area began receiving a strange flier from the Maine Republican Party in the mail. While ostensibly an attack piece against Congressman Mike Michaud, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, the mailer also provides positive information about independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Based on the content of the flier and its recipients, the mailing is clearly designed to promote Cutler’s candidacy at Michaud’s expense, to the ultimate benefit of Republican Governor Paul LePage.
LePage has previously said that Cutler being in the race was the best thing for his re-election and other Republicans have agreed. Conservative radio host Howie Carr discussed the need to support Cutler’s candidacy at a GOP event in February, a month after Republican Governor’s Association executive director Phil Cox laid out the specifics of their calculus, saying: “If Cutler stays in that range [getting 15 to 20 percent of the vote], the governor has a very good chance of winning. If he drops below 15, it presents a more difficult pathway to victory.”
Poll aggregators currently peg Cutler’s support at right around 15 percent, far behind the two major-party candidates but potentially garnering enough support from progressive voters to improve LePage’s chances at re-election.
The mailer cites the Cutler for Maine website, praises Cutler for having “strong management experience” and highlights his progressive positions on gun safety laws and women’s rights. It provides more negative characterizations of Michaud on these issues, failing to note that he holds the same position on gun background checks as the independent candidate and that Michaud was endorsed over Cutler by both NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood for his positions in support of women’s rights.
All voters who have reported receiving the mailer so far are either women or young people who are registered Democrats in the Portland area, not demographics that the Republican Party would normally target with any kind of mail program. [Update: Democrats in other parts of the state also report receiving the mailer.]
The Republican Party expenditure comes as Cutler’s own campaign seems to be winding down. Despite having the ability (and, in the past, the willingness) to fund his campaign out of his own personal fortune, Cutler has decreased his spending on television advertising and is currently lagging far behind his opponents in the air war, prompting some to speculate that he may have realized he has little chance of winning the race.
In the 2012 U.S. Senate race, the Maine Republican Party and conservative super PACs tried a similar tactic, sending mail and running advertising designed to boost Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill at the expense of independent candidate Angus King, the frontrunner for the seat. The ploy was ultimately unsuccessful and King won the election with 53 percent of the vote.