Democrats say phone poll attacking Mike Michaud shows that opponents are going negative

The candidates for governor in 2014: Democrat and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and independent businessman Eliot Cutler.

The candidates for governor in 2014: Democrat and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, and independent businessman Eliot Cutler.

A new poll on the gubernatorial race was launched in recent days and looks to be an outright attack on Democratic candidate Mike Michaud.

Audio of the poll, provided by someone who doesn’t want to be identified, reveals that the approximately 3-minute survey brings up many of the campaign talking points that have been used against Michaud in recent weeks: his years-old votes against same-sex marriage and equality and his stance on gun control. Utilizing a live interviewer, as opposed to an automated system, it asks whether the following statement raises doubts about Michaud:

“Michaud is simply not the best candidate for progressives. In the state Legislature, Michaud voted 19 times against efforts to end discrimination of LGBT people in Maine. He also voted repeatedly against a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion in Augusta and in Congress and Michaud has accepted more than $18,000 in donations from the NRA and voted to weaken gun-control laws.”

There was no other question that brought up any of Cutler or LePage’s positions. Michaud, who announced om November 2013 that he is gay, has said during the campaign that his stances on marriage equality and women’s health rights have “evolved” during his long career in public service.

In another query that was repeated twice, the pollster asked respondents which of the following two statements they agree with more:

1. “It is more important for me to vote for the candidate who is more likely to defeat Paul LePage even if that candidate doesn’t represent my views on the issues best.”

2. “It is more important for me to vote for the candidate who best reflects my views on issues, even if it gets Paul LePage re-elected.”

Though the poll also asks respondents which of the three candidates they would vote for if the election were today, questions like these appear to be designed to test messaging that could be used in the gubernatorial campaign, perhaps in mailers and advertising. The wording of the first question and its reference to progressives indicates to me that the poll seeks a favorable outcome for Cutler, who so far in this campaign is lagging far behind LePage and Michaud in both fund raising and public support as indicated by prior polls.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Tuesday that he has received a few emails from Democrats about the poll and that it’s an indication that the campaign against Michaud is about to go negative.

“Mike Michaud is leading this race and the battle to attack and undermine him will begin pretty soon,” said Grant. “It seems like an attack the Cutler campaign would be interested in. … It would surprise me if the Republican Governors Association or the LePage campaign would do a poll like this.”

However, both Cutler spokeswoman Crystal Canney and Betsy Smith, who is running the Campaign for Maine Political Action Committee on Cutler’s behalf, said Tuesday that neither Cutler nor the PAC commissioned the poll. Brent Littlefield, LePage’s chief campaign strategist, also said Tuesday that the governor’s campaign isn’t responsible for the poll.

A call to the number that showed up on caller ID, (207) 808-7959, leads to a recording that says “You have reached the campaign voicemail” and provides an opportunity to be put on a do-not-call list.

The major question here is whether this is a “push poll,” which under Maine election law is illegal except under certain circumstances. Among other requirements, including that an opposing candidate must identify himself or herself if their campaign paid for the poll, push polls are defined in the law as “primarily for the purpose of suppressing or changing the voting position of the call recipient.”

Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Tuesday that “negative attacks and distortions” are bad for democracy and push against the reasons Michaud is running for office in the first place.

“All they do is divide us when we really need a governor who will bring people together, listen and do what’s best for Maine,” said Reinholt. “Sadly, we can’t stop Gov. LePage, Eliot or the outside groups from being negative and going on the attack.”



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.