- Associated Press - Friday, January 17, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The Maine governor’s race is off to an early start with three candidates already raising more than $2 million. Now independent Eliot Cutler is ready for some early debates.

Cutler is calling on Republican incumbent Paul LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud to join him as soon as possible in a series of debates - one or more in every Maine county before the November election.

“We have plenty of time to have at least one debate in every one of Maine’s 16 counties, and Maine people deserve a chance to hear from each one of us how we will change Maine’s direction, empower Maine’s future and bend the curve on Maine’s poverty rate,” Cutler said last week.

Both Michaud’s and LePage’s campaigns attacked his proposal as an attention-getting scheme.

LePage is busy creating jobs and managing the state; there will be plenty of time to debate later in the year,” said Brent Littlefield, the governor’s senior political adviser.

Lizzy Reinholt, spokeswoman for Michaud, said he is accepting invitations for debates in the fall. “This whole thing is a political stunt to distract from his weak support and poor fundraising numbers,” she said.

General election debates normally begin in late summer or fall, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

But this race is off to an early start. Michaud and LePage have no primary challengers, and Cutler has no primary election. Thus, it’s shaping up to be a three-way race, just like in 2010. Back then, LePage prevailed against Cutler and a Democrat, Libby Mitchell.

Some voters may welcome early debates to avoid a repeat of the 2010 election, when many Democrats switched from Mitchell to Cutler in the final days of the race.

But Meaghan Woodsome, an independent voter in Portland, said things are moving too fast for her tastes.

“I would not welcome the early debates because I already feel fatigue in this race,” she said Friday. “Nothing substantial comes out these debates. It’s talking point versus talking point.”

All three candidates are already raising money.

Michaud has raised more than $1 million, Cutler has amassed more than $945,000 and LePage has garnered nearly $720,000, according to campaign finance reports filed last week.

Those issuing a call for debates are generally candidates who are good debaters or who are trailing in the polls, so it makes sense for Cutler to press the issue, Brewer said. Likewise, candidates who are leading the polls or who aren’t good debaters generally try to delay, or skip, debates.

“At the end of the day, there’s nothing to lose for Cutler in issuing this call, so it makes perfect sense to throw that out there,” Brewer said.



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