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Democrat Michaud shifts focus to Cutler as Maine governor's race enters its final days

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HALLOWELL, Maine — After months of trying to ignore Eliot Cutler, Democrat Mike Michaud is acknowledging the independent's presence in the final days of the gubernatorial campaign with an ad blitz warning Cutler's supporters that they risk sending Republican Paul LePage back to the Blaine House for another four years.

The six-term Democratic congressman has stressed throughout the heated race that it's really a two-way fight between him and LePage in an effort to prevent Cutler from being viewed as a viable candidate.

But Michaud's campaign and a political action committee backing him are now pushing the idea that a vote for Cutler is a vote for LePage, with new ads featuring people who voted for Cutler in 2010 but are now supporting Michaud.

"Because we just can't afford four more years of Paul LePage," Michaud's TV ad declares. "If you want Paul LePage to take a hike, you've got to vote for Mike," a former Cutler supporter says in an ad unveiled Monday by California billionaire Tom Styer's political group, NextGen Climate.

The push comes as a new Portland Press Herald poll shows LePage leading Michaud 45 percent to 35 percent among likely voters, with Cutler trailing at roughly 16 percent. The poll, which was conducted Oct. 15-21 by landline and cellphone, has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

The poll suggested a shift among registered Democrats, who made up a smaller group of likely voters than previous Press Herald polls. The poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center suggests a 10 percent drop in support for Michaud among registered Democrats its September poll.

Michaud's campaign called the poll an outlier, noting that nearly all other ones in the race have shown LePage and Michaud neck and neck.

Cutler shot back that the newest ads confirm that Michaud's campaign is "collapsing" and that the Democrat must go on the attack because his initial strategy of pretending that the independent wasn't in the race has failed.

"After trying to persuade voters for the past year that this is really just a two-person race, Mike Michaud and the Maine Democratic Party are now trying to lay the collapse of his campaign at my feet," Cutler said in a statement. "No one is buying that excuse."

He also dismissed the idea that Michaud is the only candidate who can beat LePage.

The Press Herald poll showed LePage leading Michaud 50 percent to 43 percent if it Cutler were out of the race. It showed Cutler and LePage tied.

While the new ads are an attempt to eat away at Cutler's base, they could also potentially be risky for Michaud, said Brian Duff, political science professor at the University of New England.

"It gives (Cutler) some legitimacy if you run ads that pay attention to him, that take him seriously as an alternative," Duff said.

Michaud, who was campaigning Monday in Hallowell as the race entered its last full week, said he's confident more Cutler supporters will gravitate toward him in the coming days as it become clear the independent cannot win the three-way race.

He also is hoping to rally voters like Laura Lewis who desperately want to oust LePage and view Cutler's presence in the race as LePage's ticket to re-election. The 36-year-old registered Democrat walking in downtown Hallowell said she believes supporting Cutler would cause Maine to "end up in the same boat" as four years ago.

But Cutler warned that if residents "vote their fears and support Mike Michaud," they will be ensuring LePage another term.

"If they seriously want to defeat Paul LePage, the only hope is to support me, to turn their backs on the Democratic Party's fear-mongering and to vote their hopes and dreams," he said.


Follow Alanna Durkin at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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