AUGUSTA, Maine — Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate for governor, has gone public with his challenge to Maine’s other two major gubernatorial candidates to participate in policy debates in every county in Maine — and soon.

The campaigns for Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Paul LePage said Cutler is trying to distract voters from weak fundraising and poll results and said they will participate in debates later this year.

“I suggested yesterday that we have debates in every one of Maine’s 16 counties, and I observe there is plenty of time left in the campaign to do it,” wrote Cutler in a letter to Michaud and LePage on Thursday, according to a statement from his campaign. “There have been multiple opportunities offered through a variety of organizations for forums and debates, and I have accepted every one of them; but none has materialized.”

The LePage and Michaud camps were forceful in their reactions.

“To me this is a stunt from Eliot Cutler and a distraction from his weak fundraising numbers and stagnating support across Maine,” Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said by phone Friday morning. “We have already begun accepting invitations for debates during the general election.”

LePage’s political strategist, Brent Littlefield, agreed with Reinholt that Cutler is trying to jump-start his campaign.

“Liberal-independent Eliot Cutler will do anything he can to get his name in the press; this is yet another attempt,” said Littlefield in a written response to questions from the BDN. “Gov. LePage is busy creating jobs and managing the state; there will be plenty of time to debate later in the year.”

Part of Cutler’s argument in favor of having debates in the next few months is that the list of candidates on the November ballot is not likely to expand beyond him, LePage and Michaud.

“Neither of you has a primary opponent, so the fact that the primary elections will take place in June is of no consequence whatsoever,” wrote Cutler in his letter to LePage and Michaud. “There are only three of us in this race and in light of how important this election is for Maine’s future, Maine people deserve a full airing of our ideas over the course of this campaign.”

Reinholt challenged that assertion based on the fact that several candidates have filed preliminary paperwork to run for governor and that no one to date has fulfilled all the requirements to appear on the November ballot. According to the Maine Ethics Commission, there are a total of six potential gubernatorial candidates.

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.