Eliot Cutler makes his case to Chuck Todd

I’m not a spoiler, I’m a choice.

That’s what Eliot Cutler told MSNBC host Chuck Todd, one of the premier national political reporters working in Washington. And he’s right – there’s no right-to-the-throne for either Democrat Mike Michaud or even incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial race.

The problem is that Cutler is spending time making his case before Chuck Todd, one of the premier national political reporters working in Washington. Not voters in Washington County. To be fair, Cutler has been making the rounds with voters in Maine since his narrow defeat to LePage during the 2016 contest.

But as time slips by and Cutler remains a distant third between the top two partisan candidates – who are locked in a virtual tie at about 38 percent according to recent polling – his argument seems less and less plausible. And it’s going to be most effective for him to be making the pitch before Maine voters – rather than a national audience – in any case.

Cutler’s other major dilemma is that he’s got to disparage both LePage and Michaud without seeming disingenuous on any of the issues he’s debating with them – that’s tough when his two opponents disagree on virtually everything. Instead – and Cutler seems well-aware of this – he must make his case on the “effective leader” front.

The attacks on LePage are fairly straight-forward, from the botched welfare study commissioned by the governor that cost about $500,000 before getting cut short for accusations of plagiarism to his public outbursts and vulgar remarks about his Democratic counterparts. And Michaud has been made – rightly or wrongly – vulnerable thanks to the Obama adminstration’s mismanagement of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Where Cutler still hasn’t found the sweet spot is leveraging doubts about his opponents whilst endearing voters to his own cause. Politicians need to be liked – truly, the most popular guy wins. In presidential races, it’s often discussed in terms of who voters would rather sit down and have a beer with. And it’s on those terms that Cutler has yet to connect with voters.

When the state’s biggest gay rights group and the local Planned Parenthood political group endorsed Michaud, who was at one time a pro-life candidate, Cutler issued statements chastising them for their choice. In the former case, it was particularly awkward because if elected, Michaud would be the first openly gay candidate elected governor in the country.

On Tuesday, when asked by Todd how he would govern better than his partisan opponents, Cutler took the low road rather than touting his own credentials and skills.

“I don’t think he has any experience that qualifies him to be governor,” Cutler said of Michaud, the 6-term congressman, former Maine Senate president and millworker.

Cutler also sought to make hay of the political action committee, or PAC, money Michaud has raised over the years – enough to equal $1,000 a day since entering Congress, including Saturdays (!), Sundays (!) and holidays (!). To be clear, by congressional standards that’s actually a paltry sum.

That aside, the major ethical qualm with money in politics is the idea that companies, causes or individuals are paying for influence. If he wants the charges of a man paid-off by special interests to work against Maine interests to stick, Cutler will have to show Maine voters examples of Michaud failing to act on their behalf.

But one thing Cutler doesn’t lack is confidence – another healthy political attribute.

“When I’m elected this fall, we’ll be the first state in modern political history to have an independent governor and independent senator at the first time,” Cutler confidently told Todd. “That’s going to send a powerful message.”

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.