Michaud for Governor?

Maine 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud (D) released a video (see below) yesterday announcing that he is forming an exploratory committee to run for governor next year. When most people file “exploratory committees,” as Illinois Democrat Bill Daley did earlier in the week for his own Land of Lincoln gubernatorial campaign, it is with the clear intent of running for the office. Here, Michaud has probably not completely decided and is truly using the entity to test the waters for his effort.

You will remember in 2012, just after Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) announced that she would not seek re-election, Michaud quickly, but tentatively, jumped into the statewide race. When it became apparent that Independent former Gov. Angus King was heading to consensus candidate status for Independents and Democrats, Michaud quickly scurried back to his safe House seat and announced that he would run for re-election.

The Maine gubernatorial contest is similar to the ’12 Senate campaign because a strong Independent will be in the race. Back in 2010, Independent liberal attorney Eliot Cutler placed a close second to Republican Paul LePage, leaving Democrat Libby Mitchell far behind in third place. Many observers credit Cutler’s presence in the race, and his strong campaign, as the main reason LePage won. Since the Republican scored only 37.5 percent of the vote in the three-way contest, such an analysis appears to carry credibility.

At the outset, the 2014 gubernatorial contest appears to be a repeat of the way Gov. LePage originally won. Cutler has already announced that he will run again, and had hoped to feed upon the same type of Independent/Democratic political dynamic that convincingly elected Sen. King. Considering Michaud’s latest action, a coalition between voters from the two political affiliations coming together to support Cutler must be rated as unlikely. Hence, LePage may find himself in familiar political territory late next year, a three-way campaign scenario that might illuminate his only realistic path to victory. As a strong conservative in largely liberal Maine, it takes an extraordinary campaign landscape, such as a multi-candidate contest, for such a candidate to win statewide.

The simple fact that the cautious Michaud formed an exploratory committee tells us that the Democrats will not be coalescing around Cutler. Therefore, they are going to need a much stronger nominee than they had three years ago — someone like Michaud — to carry past first Cutler, and then ultimately LePage. Starting with a base of only the 19 percent that Mitchell attracted as the Democratic nominee in 2010, and more from his congressional district, Michaud will have his work cut out for him.

Should he ultimately decide to run for governor, his open 2nd Congressional District — largely comprising the northern and western portions of Maine — can become competitive. The Maine districts normally vote Democratic, but both of their CD’s have the potential of electing a Republican. In 2012, President Obama carried this seat with 52.9 percent against Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 44.4 percent. Four years earlier, he attracted 54.6 percent against Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

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