With Election Day ticking closer, the candidates for governor continued their frenzied pushes for votes over the weekend, emphasizing to their supporters the crucial importance of a strong voter turnout.
For independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell, the news of the weekend was big-name endorsements. Republican Paul LePage kept his focus on job creation by voicing his support for a private prison in Maine.
Former Gov. Angus King ended eight years of silence on Maine’s gubernatorial elections Saturday to support Cutler.
“I never intended to be standing here, but circumstances sometimes force you to take positions,” said King during a press conference in Portland. “I really think Eliot Cutler is the right guy for the state.”
On Sunday, Mitchell welcomed former President Bill Clinton to a rally in Lewiston. Though Clinton’s support of the Legislature’s Senate president is nothing new, his visit to Maine was meant to rally Democrats for Mitchell, which she desperately needs according to recent polls that suggest her support is waning while LePage’s and Cutler’s builds.
Clinton praised Mitchell’s record on jobs, education, energy and taxes and appealed to young voters.
“Any young person who doesn’t vote this Tuesday is playing Russian roulette with their future,” said Clinton.
Republican Paul LePage — who has been the race’s front-runner for most of the campaign — spent Sunday morning at Dysart’s restaurant in Hermon, one-at-a-timing diners as he worked his way around the eatery. Asked by a reporter about the power of endorsements, LePage said they’re worth one vote each.
“I think we have our fair share of endorsements,” he said, listing U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the National Federation for Independent Business and the National Rifle Association.
“This is a numbers game, not a names game,” said LePage. “The scary part about people telling me I have a big lead is people saying, ‘Ah, he’s going to win so I won’t vote.’ If they don’t get out and vote, it’s surprise, surprise. I’ve been in close elections before.”
Cutler, who credited endorsements of his campaign by all but one of the state’s daily newspapers as a major factor in his recent surge in the polls, said he also believes that “negative campaigning” between LePage and Mitchell has repelled voters.
“There is a rising revulsion against that kind of negative campaigning,” said Cutler, who has been accused by Mitchell of going negative by calling her “more of the same.”
“Our problems in Maine are so complicated, so deeply rooted and in need of so much change, that we all understand that to do that from one extreme or the other isn’t going to work,” said Cutler to supporters on Saturday at the Belfast Grand Opera House.
Mitchell, during Sunday’s rally with Clinton, emphasized to supporters the reasons why she should be governor, including some of the differences among herself, LePage and Cutler.
“We built this campaign by talking to voters about our values,” said Mitchell to a gathering of more than 700 people at the Lewiston Armory. “We have talked about improving our schools, protecting the environment and safeguarding every person’s civil rights. Maine can get back on track, and I will be a governor who will re-build our economy job by job by job.”
LePage did not address the diners at Dysart’s en masse, but told a Bangor Daily News reporter that the remainder of this year will be busy for him if he is elected. In addition to working with a transition team to begin the arduous process of writing a biennial state budget bill, LePage said if elected he will remain general manager of Marden’s and mayor of Waterville through December. But he said the work of improving Maine’s image as unfriendly to business “would begin Wednesday morning.” Asked what he meant by that, LePage brought up a firm called Corrections Corp. of America, which he said was rebuffed by the state in its attempt to build a private corrections facility for federal prisoners in Milo.
“They came to Maine last year and wanted to build an 1,800-cell prison,” said LePage, who said he favors the proposal because it would have brought jobs to an economically depressed area of the state. “The state of Maine shunned them away. I told them [CCA] that if I win on Tuesday, I’ll call them Wednesday.”
Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said there has been talk for years of bringing federal prisoners to Maine — to be housed in either the state’s existing corrections infrastructure or a new privately run jail — but those proposals have not found support for many reasons. He said LePage’s intent to bring the idea back to the table is “not reality” and that neither the Legislature nor the Criminal Justice Committee voted last year on a proposal for a private prison in Milo, as alleged by LePage.
“We’ve actually lost our federal prisoners because the feds are downsizing where they keep prisoners,” said Gerzofsky. “This proposal has been around since I’ve been in Augusta, and it doesn’t make any sense.”
Independent candidates Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, who have failed to surpass single-digit support through the campaign, also spent the weekend campaigning. Moody circulated through several stops during his “Pickup Truck Tour” while Scott hiked Tumbledown Mountain with supporters.
In a Twitter posting, Scott expressed that he is still meeting new supporters, but expressed frustration about the attention his campaign has failed to garner — and not just among voters.
“Everyone has been so supportive and positive, voters are seeking new ideas,” he tweeted at midday Sunday before taking a wilderness hike with supporters. “Ever notice all the coverage of me in the print media? Not.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.