The Universal Notebook: Why Maine needs ranked-choice voting
A recent Public Policy Polling poll suggests that if a three-way race for governor were held today, Gov. Paul LePage, with a solid 37 percent of the vote, would beat any Democratic candidate and independent Eliot Cutler. In a head-to-head race, the poll found that just about any Democrat wins.
We all know how far off polls can be and how far off November 2014 is, but do we really want to take a chance on another spoiler election condemning Maine to a second LePage administration with all the insulting, ill-mannered, oafish behavior that might suggest?
What Maine needs for its gubernatorial election is the sort of ranked-choice voting that Portland has adopted for its mayoral elections. By designating first, second and third choices on the ballot, voters ensure that the eventual winner has a majority, not just a slim plurality.
But because Maine is unlikely to adopt ranked-choice voting in time for the 2014 election, it may take some creative collusion to defeat LePage, though it’s hard to believe that close to 40 percent of Maine voters actually approve of the bully in the Blaine House.
Like a lot of Democrats, I voted for Eliot Cutler at the last minute in 2010 when it became apparent that Libby Mitchell couldn’t possibly win. Cutler came so close to beating LePage that in hindsight, Mitchell seems to have been the spoiler.
I have since met and talked with Cutler and I could very well vote for him again. Cutler’s message of moderation and bipartisanship has its appeal. But he may not fare as well in 2014 as he did in 2010, when he was essentially a choice of last resort. Cutler will have to overcome the "Romney Curse" – a lack of the common touch – if he is going to appeal to enough voters to beat both LePage and Fill-in-the-Democrat.
A lot of the politically savvy folks I have talked with about 2014 sing the same song: “Cutler ain’t no Angus King” and caution that he represents Paul LePage’s best chance of re-election.
It was rather laughable last fall when independent U.S. Senate candidate Steve Woods announced that he would drop out of the race if it looked as though he might take enough votes away from Angus King to give the election to Charlie Summers, but some similar form of deference may well be in order come 2014.
There is precedent here in Yarmouth, in fact, for a candidate bowing out to help elect a sympathetic opponent. In 2012, gracious Democrat Cindy Bullens withdrew from the state Senate race and endorsed independent incumbent Sen. Dick Woodbury when it became apparent that she and Woodbury risked splitting the moderate-progressive vote and letting conservative candidate Chris Tyll slip in.
I somehow doubt the Democratic Party will defer to Cutler the way it did to Angus King by fielding a candidate who couldn’t win, but I would like to see an agreement between Cutler and a Democrat-to-be-named-later that one of them will withdraw and endorse the other as the gubernatorial campaign goes down the home stretch. If it’s not clear with two weeks to go who’s in the lead and who should defer, I’d just as soon they flipped a coin – anything to prevent the unthinkable.
As much as Cutler wants to be governor and might make a good one, he cannot possibly want to be remembered as the guy who saddled Maine with Paul LePage not once, but twice. Four more years of Gov. Buttkiss would be a rank choice, indeed.