Finally, debates. What was all the fuss about? The three gubernatorial candidates performed as expected. Maybe better. So are we disappointed? Just a touch. Debates are not unlike hockey; we go for the game but we are secretly hoping for a fight.
So far the debates have been civil. There was not much new from the candidates unless it was the relentless good humor of Governor Paul LePage. If his opponents were hoping for a meltdown (and they were), it did not happen.
Congressman Mike Michaud lowered expectations right off the bat, tackling one of his weak points head on. He confessed that he is not a thrilling orator. He was right. He stuck to his script, which is surely what his campaign team was hoping he would do. A gaffe by him at this stage of the game could be fatal. The result was that he sounded very much the politician, long on rhetoric and short on specifics.
Eliot Cutler has an enviable command of the issues, able to reel off facts and figures to support both his policy proposals and his criticism of the other candidates. He posed a scenario in which the CEO of a big, out-of-state business was thinking about relocating to Maine and requested a meeting with Maine’s governor. Looking down the table, Mr. Cutler asked: “Who do you want to send?”
Who do we want to send to Augusta? Those desperate to unseat Governor LePage would settle for any candidate with a pulse. The two possibilities each have distinct appeal, so why are we making our choice based on anti-LePage strategy rather than simply voting for the person we think could provide a healthy blast of strong leadership for our state?
The sad demise of yet another paper mill, this one in our backyard, does not speak of a Maine that is on the move. Who among the candidates is most likely to come up with a sound approach to bringing Maine’s economy back from the dead?
Governor LePage’s fiscal chickens have not yet come home to roost. Those tax cuts he points to with such pride? The consequences are not yet fully visible. They will emerge in the next year or two, and only then will we really start to feel the pain. We are going to be in need of talented leadership to get us back on track.
Mike Michaud promises a free sophomore year in college, a “pro-growth” tax policy (with no indication as to what that would look like) and more funding for schools. Sounds great, but a man who has spent 34 years in office should be giving us more specifics, particularly how he would pay for all that.
The congressman has plenty of government experience, but none at the executive level in the private sector. He has spent most of his adult life in elected office, with not all that much to show for it. How would he lead Maine out of the economic wilderness?
Eliot Cutler is quite the opposite, with no experience in office but major chops among the big dogs with whom Maine must run if we are to lift ourselves out of the economic bottom tier of states. He has worked in an environment where people are expected to get things done, not just talk about it.
Speaking of talk, it is instructive to watch the debates with the sound turned off. Governor LePage and Congressman Michaud do a lot of twitching. The governor sweeps imaginary crumbs from his desk. Congressman Michaud keeps looking offstage to his left as though something is happening beyond our view. Both have shoulders that keep rising, slumping or shifting.
Recent polls are beginning to suggest that the Democrats’ campaign slogan (“Mike Michaud is Not Paul LePage”) is wearing thin. Their candidate has not moved much in the polls since early in the race. Now one poll suggests he is losing ground. He is simply not a candidate who ignites the electorate. Early on, Dem’s brushed aside murmurs that the congressman is not chief executive material. For better or worse, Michaud is their man and now they must sink or swim with that choice.
There is a certain amount of milling around going on as Election Day draws near. Undecided voters appear to be leaning toward independent Cutler. Team Cutler predicted this would be the case once voters got a look at the three candidates together on a debate stage. Their big question is whether a late shift will be big enough, or soon enough.
This election will determine the future of our state for at least four years to come. Courage up, people! Think about where Maine is now, and where we would like to be, and then think really hard about which of these three men would be the best choice to get us there. Then go vote for him.