What the latest gubernatorial poll means for LePage, Cutler and Michaud

With Labor Day behind us and campaigning now in full swing, a new poll in Maine’s gubernatorial race paints the picture many pundits have predicted: Independent Eliot Cutler’s support continues to lag, but could still be enough to keep Republican Gov. Paul LePage in office thanks to the three-way race also including Democrat Mike Michaud.

Michaud and LePage are virtually tied, at 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively, according to the survey by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling firm and paid for by the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, which has endorsed Michaud. Cutler, who garnered 26 percent support in a similar poll taken in January 2013, tallies just 11 percent.

Often times the role of polling in a political contest is that of a cheap sugar high – what everyone talks about in the moment but ultimately a largely meaningless snapshot in time.

“The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day,” is the common refrain from experienced campaign hands.

But in this race, every poll from here on out will be of consequence as Cutler’s fate rests on whether or not he appears to be a viable candidate who can legitimately challenge LePage in his own right, rather than a spoiler whose presence in the race merely ensures the Republican’s re-election.

Four years ago, while Democrat Libby Mitchell held a polling edge over Cutler for much of the contest, the independent’s fate turned when an internal poll shared with the press showed the gap closing. Mitchell’s campaign deflated soon after the revelation and Cutler came within percentage points of defeating LePage.

Because he and Michaud are pulling voters from the same anti-LePage pool – 53 percent of Cutler’s supports say they would back Michaud versus 32 percent who say LePage in a head-to-head match-up – unless Cutler can show upward momentum soon, his campaign is toast.

And for the LePage camp, that’s bad news. In the incumbent’s ideal world, Cutler and Michaud get closer and closer to parity in the polls, making his solid support of between 35 percent and 42 percent sufficient for victory.

It is also of note is that this survey follows popular independent Sen. Angus King’s endorsement of Cutler – a move the Cutler camp hoped would revive his campaign. But there’s no sign King’s support has improved Cutler’s positioning.

The poll surveyed 1,059 likely voters between Sept. 8-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

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.