January 20

COMMENTARY: Cutler’s lack of pulpit shouldn’t put him into panic mode

Dan Demeritt

I vastly prefer acts of desperation to losing with dignity. I want to see the Bruins pull their goalie to get an extra scorer on the ice. I want the Celtics to put opposing players on the foul line as the final seconds tick away. And I want the golfer down by a stroke on the 18th hole to swing from his ankles and aim for the flag.

When the results matter, you play to win until the very end.

If Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos is heaving Hail Mary passes or his team is attempting to execute an on-side kick late in Sunday’s playoff game against the New England Patriots it will mean the Pats are poised for another trip to the Super Bowl.

Let’s hope for that.

But what you won’t see are the Broncos or the Patriots engaging in acts of desperation at the start of the game. These teams are built to win and will execute their game plans rather than wasting possessions on risky plays with very little chance of success.

So too should be the strategy of the Eliot Cutler for Governor campaign.

If anyone knows that elections are not decided until the end, it is Cutler and his advisers. His ascent in the polls in the 2010 campaign for governor was remarkable and would give any laggard hope for a late surge. Far be it from me or anyone else to write the Cutler for Governor obituary in January.

Nevertheless, it seems that the Cutler campaign is thrashing about in its attempts to gain traction and attention. While I get the problem, I think there is a better solution.

Cutler’s challenge right now is that he is a candidate without standing to influence the news of the day. He does not hold office nor does he have political party allies who would provide relevance as important matters are decided in Augusta.

In a typical campaign, Cutler would have plenty of time to be relevant as people starting assessing the candidates late in the summer and into the fall. But Cutler and Democrat Congressman Mike Michaud are engaged in a competition now to be the most viable alternative to LePage. And Michaud is winning.

As campaigns sprint to the end, it sometimes gets ugly. Candidates and their operatives will start flailing away, hoping to make news that advances their own standing or knocks an opponent off his stride.

It seems like Cutler is in this mode at the start of his campaign rather than at the end. It would be like seeing Patriots coach Bill Belichick order an onside kick at the start of Sunday’s game against the Broncos.

Over the last two weeks, Cutler suggested to Portland-area students that, had the rules of the election been different, he would be in the Blaine House today. Cutler blasted a gay rights organization for putting politics ahead of principle with its decision to endorse his gay opponent.

More recently, he held a press conference and issued statements about why his opponents are unfit to be governor. At the end of last week, he proposed an overly eager debate schedule that was dismissed easily by his major party opponents.

It is way too early to suggest Cutler’s campaign is desperate. But the campaign is struggling desperately for attention in a manner that is inconsistent with a candidate who wants to be considered as an alternative to politics as usual.

Returning to gridiron parlance, Cutler has to grind it out. He has to stop chasing the daily news cycle and focus much more on giving voters a reason to consider his qualifications for Maine’s highest elected office. And he has to describe his plans for our state’s future in terms that are relatable to average voters.

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