The Universal Notebook: You won’t have Cutler to kick around anymore

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As I write this five days before the election, I have no idea who won the gubernatorial race, but I know it wasn’t independent Eliot Cutler. And it never was going to be.

In a self-serving concession speech-that’s-not-a-concession speech, Cutler acknowledged that after four years of campaigning he was still right where he has always been – a distant third place.

“Anyone who has supported me – but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud – should do so,” Cutler said.

I would have a lot more respect for Cutler and his dark-horse campaign had he read the political tea leaves a month or so ago, pulled out, endorsed Rep. Mike Michaud, and given those who had made the mistake of voting early for him a chance to cast a vote that would count. If he really believed all the things he said about moving Maine forward, that’s what he would have done.

Cutler’s ego or some misplaced point of honor kept him from saying he was quitting, when for all practical purposes he was. U.S. Sen. Angus King, who kind of had to endorse his fellow independent, was the first to get the signal and quickly change his endorsement to Michaud.

Cutler spent his entire campaign trying to fight off the spoiler label, but that’s really all he ever was. That made for a lot of rhetoric about voting our hopes and not our fears, a sour note the candidate kept sounding right to the bitter end.

“Indeed, the politics of fear and negative ads have returned with a vengeance beyond my imagining,” he complained last week.

But the only reason Cutler even appeared for one brief shining moment to be a viable candidate is that a lot of us voted our fears in 2010, voting for Cutler at the last minute when Libby Mitchell tanked, out of a fear that Paul LePage might actually become our governor. Our worst fears, of course, were realized.

All that 11th-hour Democratic support apparently went to Cutler’s head. He thought we loved him, when it was really just a one-night stand. Then he spent the next four years trying to get us to marry him. Very sad.

Cutler was never going to get that big last-minute Democratic surge, because Democrats were united behind Michaud. In order to have any chance of sparing Maine four more years of pain and suffering under LePage, we understood that we had to remain resolute this time. Cutler’s refusal to get out of the way, even when it was clear he couldn’t win, suggests that he believed it was more important that people vote for him than that LePage be defeated. The fact that he did not throw his support behind Michaud underscores that Cutler is only about Cutler.

Cutler is supposedly a smart guy, a man of ideas. Most of his support came from the professional class. He has snob appeal the same way LePage has slob appeal. But there aren’t enough doctors, dentists and lawyers in Maine to elect a toff like Cutler.

It’s one thing to be a man of ideas, but it’s quite another to be able to act upon them. For that, you need a base of support and the ability to build coalitions, something Cutler did not have. Independent state Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth, a Cutler supporter, probably floated the best tax reform proposal to sail through Augusta in years, but he couldn’t get the necessary support from Republicans and Democrats, and decided not to run for re-election. Such is the lot of the man without a party.

Were Cutler serious about enacting his ideas on education, energy, the environment, the economy or anything else, he could have thrown his support behind Michaud, taken an appointment in a Michaud administration, and maybe accomplished a little something.

But Michaud was beneath Cutler and his swell supporters. I had one such gent describe Michaud to me as “a mill worker with a high school education.” Of course the same gentleman also confided that if he didn’t think Cutler could win come Election Day, he would vote for Michaud.

I sure hope he did.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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