Money matters – who’s giving matters more than how much

Update – This post was updated at 10:22 p.m. on 7/2/13 to clarify U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s position on pending gun legislation.

Money matters. That’s one of the cardinal rules in politics. But there’s some nuance that goes along with that adage.

In the gubernatorial race, the total money raised for each candidate will matter less than who the money is coming from. To start with, neither Republican Gov. Paul LePage or Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud (should he decide to run) will have too much trouble filling their coffers, because each of the national political arms see this as a winnable – or must-win – race. They also have high name recognition with their bases and have fundraised before. And independent candidate Eliot Cutler has the assets available and a demonstrated willingness to self-fund to the extent necessary to be competitive.

The three-headed monster aspect of this race is what makes it so interesting to watch and elevates the importance of each donor, not so much for their money but for what they represent. Everyone wants to back a winner, especially those given away their paychecks. By watching the donor class, we can assess where the political winds are blowing.

So, for example, Michaud’s fundraising number of $300,000 in 17 days isn’t in and of itself the most important story – the big story will be we find out who gave to him. If Michaud is pulling money from Washington Democrats, union groups and his traditional donors, ho hum.

But if he’s pulling from former supporters of Cutler, who also ran in 2010, or from Republican business leaders who supported LePage last time around, that says something about his chances. And as has been reported, Michaud has already shown that he’s beginning to snipe from Cutler’s former camp by picking up Bonnie Porta of Cape Elizabeth as his campaign treasurer. Porta and her husband, Robert C.S. Monks both were on ‘Team Cutler’ last time around.

Conversely, if Cutler makes most of his money off of former Carter administration colleagues who live in the greater Washington, D.C., area – where Cutler spent the bulk of his career – or LePage earns largely from corporate CEOs who have benefitted from his administration’s policies, neither is likely to be building the kind of voting coalition that will result in victory.

The one poll we have of the LePage-Michaud-Cutler contest, parsed here by my fellow Bangor Daily News blogger Ethan Strimling, indicates a tight contest. Done by a Democratic polling firm on behalf of the Maine Democratic Party, the poll showed LePage and Michaud tied at 32 percent, with Cutler trailing at 24 percent. As Strimling notes, this shows some weakness for LePage and Cutler, who finished in 2010 with 38 percent and 36 percent of the vote respectively.

But already Cutler is going after Michaud’s left flank, knocking him for refusing to join the rest of the Maine delegation in support of universal background checks on gun sales – an indication he knows where Michaud’s vulnerabilities are and is willing to fire the first shot.

Michaud, however, has not yet faced a vote this session thanks to the House being controlled by Republicans who oppose universal background checks. The Democratically-controlled Senate failed to move ahead on a measure that would have done so, despite support from Maine’s two senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King. After declining to specify whether or not Michaud supports universal background checks, a Michaud spokesman told the Bangor Daily News in mid-June Michaud “has been looking for ways to advance the issue in a way that will pass both chambers of Congress.”

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.