PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence endorsed independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler and touted his support for universal background checks on Thursday, little more than two weeks before former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona visits Maine to raise money for his Democratic opponent, Mike Michaud.
Cutler has been unequivocal in his support for background checks on all gun sales - including Internet sales and private sales at gun shows - saying it's needed to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
"I respect and honor Maine's long heritage of responsible gun ownership, and background checks represent a common sense safeguard that does nothing to diminish that tradition," Cutler said. "We must focus more attention on the problem of access to firearms by people who simply shouldn't own guns."
Giffords, a gun control advocate who survived a gunshot wound to the head in a 2011 deadly assault that claimed several casualties, plans to be in Maine next month. She and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, are attending a fundraiser on Michaud's behalf Aug. 9 in Kennebunk.
Bill Harwood, long-time board member of Maine Citizens, said he found it odd that Giffords would be supporting Michaud after he voted last week in favor of an amendment to prevent the District of Columbia from spending money to enforce its gun control laws.
Michaud, who's received support from the National Rifle Association over the years, is a supporter of gun rights but he's also said he supports improving background checks. He's stopped short of supporting universal background checks.
Also in the three-way race is Republican incumbent Paul LePage, who opposes gun control and once tweeted a photograph of himself holding his concealed weapon permit. LePage has vowed not to infringe on gun owner rights.
Polls show most Maine gun owners support background checks, Harwood said. "Unlike his opponents, (Cutler) is willing to stand up against the corporate gun lobby and do what for what is right for Maine," he said.
Another independent who supports gun control is former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has helped candidates who support gun control in the past but it's unclear if he's going to be campaigning for Cutler.