Mike Michaud’s EqualityMaine endorsement highlights Eliot Cutler’s challenges

One of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s biggest challenges in taking on Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud and incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage this fall are counteracting their built in partisan infrastructure.

It’s part of why, even in a state like Maine where officials without a partisan affiliation have been met with success, it’s still a steep mountain to climb. The bottom line is it takes a lot of time, manpower and money to build up and staff tried and true campaign tactics like voter identification lists and databanks, phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts.

That’s why Cutler is so upset to lose the endorsement of groups like EqualityMaine, which have serious campaign experience; in EqualityMaine’s case, thanks to the 2009 and 2011 same-sex marriage efforts. They can provide the expertise his independent bid lacks.

But it shouldn’t be a surprise that even though he garnered the support of former leader Betsy Smith, he still lost out on the group’s endorsement. Setting aside the fact that Michaud, if he wins, would be the first openly gay candidate to win a gubernatorial race in the country, EqualityMaine and the Maine Democratic Party have a lot of overlap, from overall philosophy to any number of coordinated campaign efforts. Why would they risk causing a rift?

Truly, endorsements are largely a political game. The timing of when they come can earn you political capital (maybe Smith is interested in a potential Cutler administration cabinet position) and other times, they are simply pro forma.

Yes, Michaud doesn’t have the unblemished record of a never-had-a-public-voting-record Cutler. Yes, he took – in light of his own sexuality, likely political – votes while in the Maine Legislature that more reflected conservative principles befit his rural, northern district than the membership of EqualityMaine. But is anyone – besides Cutler – really surprised EqualityMaine endorsed him? Or think Michaud will disappoint the pro-gay crowd?

In the end, Cutler is going to need to win support outside of the traditional campaign arms – be it political party or entrenched groups – to succeed. It will have to come from the ground up and not the top down. He needs a grassroots wave, ticked off with the status quo all around, to rise up and sweep him into office. By grousing via press release why he deserves an Democratic establishment endorsement he didn’t get, he bolsters the stereotype that he’s simply a Democrat that’s running as an independent to avoid a primary. And a cranky one, at that.

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.