Woods to Michaud: Are you in, or out, for governor’s race?

Steve Woods, the only Democrat to declare formally for the 2014 gubernatorial race, wants Maine Democratic Party leaders to urge U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the party’s most talked-about potential candidate, to make up his mind by June 10.

Woods, who filed with the Maine Ethics Commission as a candidate for governor in January, planned to make his case for a Michaud candidacy deadline during a Tuesday evening meeting of the Auburn Democratic Committee. But Woods’ bigger goal, he said Tuesday by phone, is that Maine Democratic Party leaders take steps to ensure that the 2014 gubernatorial nomination process highlights the party’s commitment to competence, not simply name recognition.

After faring poorly in the 2010 governor’s race and in the 2012 U.S.Senate race, Maine Democrats have made it their priority to nominate a strong gubernatorial candidate in 2014 to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and, probably, independent Eliot Cutler. Michaud, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and former Gov. John Baldacci all expressed interest, but Pingree chose not to run for governor and Baldacci continues to await Michaud’s decision.

So does Woods, which the businessman and Yarmouth Town Council chairman says frustrates him and puts his campaign at a disadvantage. Woods said he’s met with Baldacci, Michaud and Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant and agreed to drop out of the race if Pingree or Michaud had declared as candidates before March 15.

Woods said that Michaud told him in April that he needed a “few more weeks” to decide on a gubernatorial run. A month and a half later, that decision hasn’t come, and Woods wants party leaders to prod Michaud.

“While Gov. LePage continues his path of political destruction and Eliot Cutler builds his campaign machine, my friends in the Democratic Party are sitting back, hoping that Mike Michaud runs,” Woods said.

That waiting game places political strategy over principles, potentially harming any Democrat who runs, Woods said.

“Now it’s a strategic game of who is best situated to win or lose, not who’s most competent to run the state,” Woods said.

The Maine Democratic Party should encourage Michaud to run, Woods said, but the party also should seek out and support other qualified candidates to create a dynamic nomination fight that will yield the best candidate. Woods suggests the June 10 deadline for a Michaud decision because it’s exactly a year before the 2014 party primary.

“Let’s take the next year to let candidates engage the public in respectful discussion and debate,” Woods said. “Then as a party let’s vote, as opposed to three or four party leaders deciding a year and a half before the election who they will anoint. I am asking party leaders not to show favoritism or undermine other candidates and to, in effect, support all candidates. If we reduce ourselves to pettiness, then we are no better than the dysfunctional person who now occupies the Blaine House.”

Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, said the organization strives to treat all candidates fairly, but that it would not be appropriate to impose deadlines, other than those required by law, on any candidates.

“Obviously running for governor is a personal decision only [Michaud] can make on his own. When Mike makes that decision is not something we have control over. We have been speaking to him and other potential candidates. We are excited to see how the race shapes up so we can run a strong campaign against Gov. LePage and ensure we send a Democrat to the Blaine House in 2014.”

Woods’ gubernatorial campaign is his first bid for statewide office as a Democrat. In 2012, he ran for U.S. Senate as an independent. He withdrew from the race the weekend before Election Day, after previously announcing his support for Angus King, another independent candidate who easily won the election.

— Robert Long