THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

June 12, 2010

Survey gives LePage edge

The first poll gauging the governor's race since Tuesday's primary shows Republican Paul LePage leading Democrat Libby Mitchell, with unenrolled Eliot Cutler a distant third.

The Rasmussen Reports poll had LePage earning 43 percent, Mitchell getting 36 percent and Cutler 7 percent of the 500 likely Maine voters surveyed. Fourteen percent were undecided. The margin of error was 5 percent.

Two additional unenrolled candidates, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, were not included in the poll.

"It's very early in the race, but these numbers are encouraging," said Brent Littlefield, LePage's campaign strategy consultant. "The Maine people have embraced Paul LePage's remarkable life story and his proven record of fixing broken government as mayor of Waterville."

A spokesperson for Mitchell's campaign noted there are many months before the election, and this poll was simply a snapshot of sentiment.

"I think it might be a little early to be polling the race," said Jeremy Kennedy, Mitchell's campaign manager. "We came out of the primary with a 12-point lead over our nearest competitor."

Cutler's spokesman, Ted O'Meara, said the claim of only 14 percent of likely voters being undecided was suspicious. He also questioned the objectivity of the Rasmussen polling firm.

"Nationally, they're not taken seriously," O'Meara said. "Some would call them the Fox News of polling services."

Amy Fried, a University of Maine political science professor in Orono, agreed that Rasmussen is known to lean toward Republican candidates.

"It's pretty consistent," she said.

This poll relied on automated calls made to 500 landline telephones of likely voters the firm selected by a undisclosed method. The calls went out June 10.

"Most pollsters do not begin to screen by likely voters until much, much later (in a campaign)," Fried said, noting that polls before the recent primary election were inaccurate because they predicted likely voters poorly. "It's just always difficult to point out who is actually going to vote."

Fried said polls conducted using landlines during early evening hours would reach an older base of voters. "Young people tend to be out more," she said.

The Rasmussen poll also indicated 46 percent of voters surveyed don't know enough about Cutler to voice an opinion about him.

Still, "I think it's very, very bad news for Cutler," said Chris Potholm, a pollster and government professor at Bowdoin College.

Potholm said it was a mistake not to include Moody and Scott in the poll.

He said the last two unenrolled governors in the state -- Jim Longley and Angus King -- both won by capturing the smalltown business community that typically leans Republican and the Franco-Americans who typically have leaned Democratic.

"I think LePage has a lock on both those votes," he said.

Potholm said LePage probably got a "false bump" in popularity after his overwhelming victory in the primary, and that the race is far from over.

"He's going to be a strong candidate, and she's (Mitchell) going to be a strong candidate," he said. "Whoever runs the best campaign is going to win."

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford -- 620-7016

ewlanford@mainetoday.com

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