Michaud bid shakes up LePage, Cutler match-up and 2nd District

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s decision to “explore” a gubernatorial run is both unsurprising and a little surprising.

After soundly defeating a little-known but appealing opponent, Jason Levesque, in a Republican sweep year in 2010 and humbling the higher-profile former Senate President Kevin Raye in 2012, the former millworker proved he could virtually hold his congressional seat for as long as he wanted. But the idea of going from a member of the House minority to an executive role also has it’s appeal.

The question bandied about among Maine’s political class on both sides of the aisle was – what does Mike want? Would he be satisfied with nibbling around the edges of trade and veteran policy and protecting Maine interests or does he have a burning desire to make a significant mark in the state?

Michaud’s decision also had to do with Maine Democrats’ desire to not simply hand over the keys of the Blaine House to independent Eliot Cutler – a near certain outcome had Democrats failed to put up a top-tier candidate. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has one of the lowest approval ratings of any in the country and seems to outdo himself daily with childish antics that leave members of his own party cringing. A new chart from Pew Research also shows he hasn’t even been able to live up to his rhetoric as a CEO-in-chief – in 2012, Maine was one of only three states to lose jobs.

And while the conventional wisdom is that a three-way race makes LePage’s re-election inevitable, there are plenty of signs to show that’s not necessarily the case.

One top Republican political source says the key for Michaud will be translating his rock-solid support in the more conservative 2nd District to the more liberal 1st District.

“It is potentially the best case for LePage because it is the strongest three-way matchup scenario,” he says. “[But] if Mike catches on with 1st District Democrats and independents, he wins. If he catches on with just 1st district Democrats and not independents, LePage wins. If he doesn’t catch on with either, Eliot has a chance.”

The Republican says Cutler, a Democratic-leaning independent who narrowly lost to LePage in 2010, needs to change his tactics for his next bid.

“Cutler should leave the barn jacket he bought for his last run in mothballs, trade his campaign truck for a Volvo, and try to beat Mike in the 1st District,” he says.

Of course the new favorite political parlor game is who will run in the race to replace Michaud in Congress if he does make the expected leap into the gubernatorial fray. One name that just won’t go away when it comes to any top tier political race is Bruce Poliquin, the former state treasurer and failed gubernatorial and senatorial candidate. Though he lives in the 1st District, he’s been rumored to be willing to buy a house in the 2nd to deepen his ties (you don’t have to live in the district you represent).

Poliquin confirmed his interest in getting into the congressional race Thursday.

“I’m looking at entering the race very seriously,” he said in an email, noting that he grew up in the 2nd District – Waterville – as did his parents and grandparents.

Poliquin’s a self-funder who’s been willing to spend fistfuls of his own money but Republicans have repeatedly rejected him, so it’s hard to see him emerging from a GOP primary at this stage. But that hasn’t stopped him from making the rounds among Washington, D.C. Republican political offices to try and secure their blessing, according to a plugged in source.

Check out these two posts to see the handicapping I’ve already done for the congressional race, outlining the top Republican and Democratic candidates.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.