WASHINGTON -- Maine's Independent candidate for governor took a small step back from the race Wednesday, saying his supporters were free to vote for someone else if they don't think he can win. He stressed, however, that he is not dropping out of the race, despite many calls from Democrats for him to do so.
Eliot Cutler is up against Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. He has been unable to catch up in the polls, with his two competitors running neck and neck. Cutler narrowly lost to LePage in 2010, coming in ahead of the Democratic candidate, state Senate President Libby Mitchell.
Cutler told reporters Wednesday that his supporters should "vote their conscience" if they don't believe he has a shot at victory.
While Cutler is not technically dropping out of the race, his remarks essentially concede that he won't win. In recent weeks, he has also scaled back on advertising. A lower profile for Cutler is good news for Democrats, who have argued that his presence in the race is simply helping LePage's chances at re-election by taking votes away from Michaud.
"It's encouraging that Eliot told his supporters to vote their conscience," Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said on Wednesday. "We all need to come together and ensure that we bring change to the Blaine House on Election Day. It sounds like Eliot realizes that this is a two-person race, and we know that's hard. Maine can't afford four more years of Gov. LePage."
Cutler's announcement is not entirely surprising. He has indicated previously that if he did not see a surge in the polls by late October, he would perhaps release his supporters and encourage them to vote for someone else.
The independent candidate has also made similar comments in the past. "If on the day before the election, or the morning you have to go vote, if you don’t think I can win, vote for someone else," Cutler told the Portland Press Herald in May.
Republicans have also implicitly acknowledged that Cutler's candidacy is good for LePage. This week, the Republican Governors Association released an ad attacking Michaud. It made no mention of LePage, however, and instead touted Cutler's independent attitude.
Michaud's campaign also recently released an ad trying to appeal specifically to Cutler supporters.
"The RGA knows that the only path to re-election for the deeply unpopular Gov. LePage is to boost the faltering campaign of Eliot Cutler," Michaud campaign manager Matt McTighe said in a statement. "This is a desperate attempt to split the vote that is uniting to defeat Gov. LePage and end four years of policies that have held Maine's economy back."
UPDATE: 4:09 p.m. -- Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) announced Wednesday afternoon that he was switching his support from Cutler to Michaud.
This story has been updated to include comment from the Michaud campaign.
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