Maine Sen. Pat Flood, R-Winthrop, broke ranks with his party Wednesday to endorse independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.
While Flood would likely have topped many lists of potential GOP defectors from incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, his endorsement of Cutler is still the highest-profile from a partisan lawmaker so far, with the possible exception of former House Democratic Whip Terry Hayes of Buckfield. (It’s worth noting that Flood is not running for re-election this year.)
“I admire Eliot’s passion for bringing people together to set direction, solve problems and achieve our state’s potential,” Flood said in a written statement. “It’s clear to me that he has the management skills, the experience, the vision, the judgment and the character to lead our state as governor.”
While Flood is a Republican, his endorsement of Cutler is not exactly indicative of a broader GOP drift away from LePage. Flood was often named by Democrats and their allies as “someone we can work with,” something they wouldn’t say of everyone in the GOP. He was known for staying at the table rather than walking away.
Flood is the longest-serving Republican member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and was the GOP’s leading dealmaker in budget negotiations. It’s no stretch to say that he — as much as anyone else in the Legislature — was integral in avoiding a budget stalemate that would have cased a government shutdown.
Flood also showed on multiple occasions his willingness to break with party leadership. For example, he was one of just a handful of Republicans to have supported Medicaid expansion in early votes, though he joined the ranks of GOP opposition in the dying days of the most recent legislative session.
Cutler said he was honored to have Flood’s support.
“It is going to take all of us — Republicans, Democrats and independents — to turn this state around,” Cutler said in a written statement. “Pat Flood is a highly respected legislator who puts Maine people first. He works hard to find common ground and get things done, and that’s how I intend to govern.”
While Flood is well known and well regarded in political circles, his is not exactly a household name throughout the state, so it’s unlikely his endorsement will be a game changer for Cutler.
But it does defy the common narrative that Cutler’s support will come from independents and moderate Democrats. Flood’s support could indicate to moderate Republicans, perhaps dissatisfied with LePage’s brand of no-holds-barred politics, that there’s something for them to like about Cutler.
Republicans and LePage’s campaign downplayed Flood’s endorsement on Wednesday. Brent Littlefield, the governor’s chief political consultant, said he recalled Flood being “exasperated” by LePage’s expectation that reform come quickly, rather than at the methodical, sometimes slow pace of the Legislature.
David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Maine GOP, said that Flood’s support of Cutler “does not come as much of a surprise and is rooted more in personal matters than in substantive disagreement [with the governor].”