New poll with Michaud leading and Cutler lagging suggests why LePage says he will debate

In a new poll commissioned by the Press Herald, Rep. Mike Michaud continues to lead the race for governor.

You can read their article about the poll here and see breakdowns from it here.

Michaud is the preference of 40% with 38% for LePage and 12% for Cutler. When people leaning toward a candidate are including, Michaud attracts 41%, LePage 39% and Cutler 14%. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points; the lead is within that margin.

Because the Press-Herald’s previous poll, back in June had Michaud leading by 4 percentage points without leaners and 5 points with leaners included, they are describing the race as “narrowing.” However, given the sizes of both polls’ margins of the error, that can’t be said with certainty.

Last week the Cutler campaign announced that their internal poll had him at 19% and claimed momentum. Compared to other recent polls, including this new one, that poll looks like an outlier. At this point, Cutler doesn’t appear to have changed the basic shape of the race.

2014 Maine governor's race. Chart of polls included by RealClearPolitics for August and September 2014.

2014 Maine governor’s race. Chart of polls included by RealClearPolitics for August and September 2014.

In the last two months, as the above chart of polls shows, the governor’s race looks fairly stable. Michaud has had a narrow lead over LePage, with Cutler trailing. [You can see a graph showing polls over a longer time period here.]

Polls and the debate brouhaha

After the Press Herald poll was published the morning of September 28, later that day Gov. LePage announced he would go ahead and debate his opponents.

Debates, of course, are a normal part of gubernatorial campaigns.

However, regarding participating in debates and public fora, LePage has looked erratic.

He sat in a Portland parking garage and left rather than sit at a table with his opponents at an energy forum.

Then the governor said he wouldn’t debate Michaud because he wanted Michaud to denounce an ad about the press release the governor’s office issued that included Social Security among “welfare” programs. (After an uproar about the press release, his office said the governor’s statement encompassing Social Security that, “It doesn’t matter what liberals call these payments, it is welfare, pure and simple,” was poorly and wrongly phrased.)

After that, LePage said he would attend debates but sit in the audience and watch.

So why has LePage changed his mind again and decided to debate?

Simply, he and his strategists have concluded it’s in his best interest to do so.

LePage has to try to shake up the race, which looks, as I said, pretty stable.

If there was some strategy behind LePage’s previous moves on debates, one element could have been to feed into one rationale for Cutler’s candidacy, that the political parties engage in partisan food fights. Another would have been to create a negative impression about the truthfulness of Michaud, a political leader who doesn’t have a history or reputation for lying.

Michaud’s favorable ratings remain strong, suggesting LePage hasn’t convinced Maine voters that Michaud isn’t honest.

LePage’s erratic shifts on debates remind voters of his previous actions and statements, including his long record of saying things that just weren’t true.

Michaud continues to lead and Cutler continues to lag. The longer this goes on, the less likely it is that the anti-LePage vote will split further and the more likely it is that these voters will consolidate further for Mike Michaud.

So LePage will get on the stage and hope that he and Cutler can change the dynamic of this race by pulling down Michaud so anybody-but-LePage voters don’t know who to support, thus enabling LePage to win reelection.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.