LePage’s crass talk plays into Democrats’ playbook

Gov. Paul LePage’s most recent offensive remark highlights the reason a three-way race is no reason to guarantee his re-election. That, and his lack of tangible legislative and economic accomplishments, despite while serving with Republican majorities at the start of his term.

National Democrats say they are now best positioned to take back the Blaine House, now that they’ve got one of their top recruits in U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. The 2nd District congressman draws strength from the more rural areas of the state but his challenge will be to win over Democrats and independents from the more liberal south and coast.

But Democrats are banking on a personality-driven campaign to help Michaud, a soft-spoken, earnest seeming politician, juxtaposed by the easy-to-caricature LePage, whose penchant for name-calling, bullying and tantrum-throwing is real and well-documented.

Eliot Cutler, an independent, who narrowly lost to LePage in 2010 when voters deemed him a better option than the Democratic candidate, is also expected to be portrayed in a negative light by Democrats. Cutler is a former Carter administration official who spent decades in Washington, D.C. working for a law and lobbying firm. Like LePage, he has a gruff demeanor and a short-temper, both of which Democrats hope to highlight.

That doesn’t mean Michaud is in for a cakewalk either – while playing up his personality should win him voters he still has a tricky needle to thread when it comes to the issues. While he’s drifted to the left on some social issues since he was first elected to Congress, he will face tough questions on his views concerning hot topics such as abortion and gay marriage. That’s where Cutler will try and eat into the Democratic base – particularly in the more populous south – by painting Michaud as too conservative. The key to watch here is where liberal and progressive groups that are Democratic allies throw their support. If they consolidate behind Michaud, Cutler will have a difficult time pulling together the coalition he needs to win.

And while LePage’s 2010 campaign largely ignored the social issues to focus on the economy, it may be in his best interest to play them up this time around in order to turn out the state’s conservative base. That’s because when it comes to his record, LePage has somewhat of a blank page. He ran as a tough-talking but fair-minded executive who would stop at nothing to open Maine up for business, but instead – to use just one measure – it’s one of just three states that lost jobs in 2012, according to Pew Research.

This race comes down to whether or not Michaud or Cutler can knock the other one out before the end of the summer. If one seems consistently more viable than the other at that point, the leader of the two can shift to a two-man race against LePage. Because momentum or perceived momentum are so critical to this a race, media will play either a critical or fool’s role as campaigns try and win the best coverage possible.

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.