PORTLAND, Maine — A group of prominent Maine women, both Democrats and Republicans, said Wednesday they were supporting Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate in Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial race.

Among those offering support is a former U.S. attorney, current and former members of the Maine Legislature, successful businesswomen and philanthropists.

Cutler, in a three-way, race with incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, of the 2nd District, has amped up his campaign’s focus on women’s issues in recent weeks. Women account for about 53 percent of Maine voters and could be a key bloc in the race for the Blaine House.

During Wednesday’s gathering at Portland Public Library, women who support Cutler suggested they would vote personal values over party ideologies in the coming elections, reflecting the campaign theme, “Vote our Values.”

Eleanor Kinney, an investor in various Maine agricultural interests, said she was a life-long Democrat but felt compelled to support Cutler over Michaud or LePage.

“This election has to be about what is best for Maine people and not about the survival of any party,” Kinney said during Wednesday’s event.

Cutler’s record and long-term views on the environment, abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, among other issues, were touted.

“During my career as a public prosecutor, I handled many cases in which a defendant who was prohibited by law from having a gun obtained one through a private sale where no background check is required,” said Paula Silsby, a former U.S. attorney for Maine. Silsby said she backs Cutler because he had been unequivocal in his support for closing gun sale loopholes on background checks.

“Universal background checks for all gun sales is a reasonable measure to keep criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns while preserving our heritage and the rights of gun owners,” Silsby said.

Sherry Huber, a Falmouth Republican and former state lawmaker who once ran for governor, said she was backing Cutler because of his views on environmental protection and his promise to make protecting Maine’s natural resources a priority.

“Clean air and water are vital to life on Earth, and here in Maine we understand that,” Huber said.

Huber, like other speakers, also made reference to changes in Michaud’s voting record on reproductive and gay rights during his time in the Maine Legislature and in Washington.

“There is no question or evolving position where Eliot stands,” Huber said.

Kim Volk, a businesswoman who noted she is a lesbian, said she supported Cutler because he always backed Maine’s LGBT community.

She said Michaud, who announced he was gay late last year, voted against anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians during his years in the Legislature.

“Mike Michaud and his supporters claim that he has evolved on LGBT equality,” Volk said. “But it took him until after Maine voters approved full equality to finally come around to saying he does.”

Volk said Cutler was a leader on equal rights issues and not a follower.

“Eliot’s moral compass has never needed recalibration on issues of fairness and equality,” Volk said. “Paul LePage’s moral compass points him in the wrong direction, and Mike Michaud’s seems to be broken, pointing him whichever way the wind is blowing.”

Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, said Cutler would work as a collaborator with the Legislature, not against it, and she believed he would not put party politics before good policy.

Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for LePage’s campaign, said LePage made it a policy point to hire “accomplished and professional women” for his Cabinet and staff — and that he regularly seeks their “wisdom.”

Littlefield also said LePage’s work to reduce and eliminate domestic violence in Maine is a strong testament to the governor’s support of women in Maine.

Two of the three guests who introduced LePage during his re-election announcement were women, Littlefield noted, including one who was a former Democrat and Michaud supporter and another who was a domestic violence survivor LePage personally helped.

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud’s campaign, said Cutler was trying to create fear among women voters and develop wedge issues that could keep his campaign relevant after months of consistently trailing in the polls.

Reinholt also disputed some of the claims made against Michaud, noting he was publicly supportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians since at least 2002.

Michaud was first elected to Congress in 2002, running as a “pro-life” candidate against a “pro-choice” Republican.

Reinholt said Michaud’s position on women’s reproductive rights was clearly “pro choice,” and Michaud is the only candidate to have an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion rights organization.

She detailed at least 30 pro-choice votes Michaud has taken in Congress since 2004.

Reinholt also said Michaud was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club of Maine, which is a testament to his voting record on protecting the environment. Cutler’s campaign was engaging in a “distortion of the facts,” which is something Cutler vowed he wouldn’t do as a candidate, Reinholt said.

She also said Cutler, having never served in elected office, has never had to cast the “hard votes that Mike has had to make.” She accused Cutler’s campaign and supporters of “cherry picking” Michaud’s voting record, which spans more than three decades, while overlooking his most recent votes in Congress.

Michaud was attending sessions in Congress Wednesday, but he issued a statement.

“For three-and-a-half years, Gov. LePage has launched baseless attacks as he’s failed to lead the state of Maine, and now we are seeing more of the same from Eliot Cutler as he and his campaign repeatedly distort my stance on important issues facing Maine women, Maine families and Maine voters,” he wrote.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.