Michaud gets major boost from Obama and a surprise move by an opponent

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s chances of becoming the first openly gay person elected governor of any state took a giant leap forward this week, when pro-gay third party opponent Eliot Cutler gave his blessing for supporters to vote for a candidate who could win.

Independent candidate Cutler had been pulling around 15 percent in the three-way race for governor of Maine. But with just a week left before the voting, most polls have indicated the race is clearly between just two major party candidates — Democrat Michaud and Republican incumbent Paul LePage.

Cutler did not drop out of the race, but many political observers called his campaign “done” and speculated most of the progressive’s support will go to Michaud on November 4. That speculation was quickly underscored when popular U.S. Senator Angus King, also an independent, transferred his loyalty from Cutler to Michaud.

The news came just one day before President Obama drew thousands of people to a Michaud rally in Portland, Maine. Thursday’s major media event came on the heels of three other high profile rallies for Michaud –rallies starring former President Bill Clinton, expected presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Together, they drew enormous attention and energy to Michaud’s campaign and all but drowned out efforts by LePage to muster a show of strength.

Michaud’s campaign did not go giddy over Cutler’s virtual concession.

“It wasn’t an endorsement,” said Michaud Communications Director Lizzy Reinholt. Cutler, she noted, “made it clear he was saying that he thought if [Cutler’s supporters] thought someone else could win, whether it was LePage or Mike, that they could go for them.”

Reinholt acknowledged that it was “encouraging to see” but added, “we’re not taking anything for granted. It’s going to be a close race no matter what.”

The last poll taken before Cutler made his announcement October 29 was one conducted October 23-29. It showed Michaud and LePage tied at 42 percent, with Cutler at 13 percent. According to the Bangor Daily News, which sponsored the poll, those results represented an “upswing” of three points for LePage from an October 6-12 poll when Michaud led by three points.

But it’s hard to imagine that many of Cutler’s people will cast their votes for the right-wing, anti-gay, anti-abortion, Tea Party man who told the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”

Most of the LGBT community has been solidly behind Michaud since he announced his campaign and then quickly published an op-ed piece acknowledging he is gay. Michaud said at the time that he came out because he didn’t want any “whisper campaigns” used against him, presumably by the LePage campaign.

Ironically, the only concerted criticism of Michaud’s sexual orientation has been to suggest he’s not gay enough. Cutler, who has strongly supported gay equal rights in the state with both his personal money and influence, claimed that Michaud, as a state legislator, cast “19 consecutive votes against equal rights for the LGBT community.” Earlier this month, in the candidates’ first debate, Cutler criticized Michaud for failing to support marriage equality and a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Reinholt said Michaud’s being gay has simply not been an issue, and Elise Johansen, executive director of Equality Maine, agreed. The only anti-gay message she’s seen during the entire campaign, she said, was a “very derogatory” anti-gay statement on one bumper sticker.

It is a refreshing irony, given that Maine has, for the past many years, been the scene of constant ballot battles between anti-gay forces and those seeking marriage equality and non-discrimination protection.

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