Maine's political world is buzzing about a mysterious poll about the state's three-way gubernatorial race between Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
It's not clear who commissioned the poll, which echoes criticisms of Michaud's voting record that have been advanced by the Cutler campaign.
All three campaigns have denied any role, and it's Michaud's campaign is using it to raise money.
"The false attacks on Mike Michaud have started -- and it's getting pretty ugly," Campaign Manager Matt McTighe said in a fundraising email Wednesday morning. "(The poll) directly attacks Mike's record with distortions that we’ve heard countless times from Mike’s opponents on the campaign trail."
That reaction is fishy to Cutler campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney, who wondered whether Michaud's campaign or it allies were behind the poll.
Here's her response:
"The Cutler campaign has nothing to do with this poll. Eliot pledged in 2009 and again this time that he would not go negative.
"On the one hand, it appears from media reports that the questions in the poll are based on certain facts that the Michaud campaign would like to avoid. For instance, the fact is that Michaud DID vote the wrong way 19 times on ending discrimination. It's a fact that he HAS taken nearly 30-k from the NRA.
"On the other hand, this whole thing smacks of a ruse, where both the media and the voters are being used as pawns. Once again, the Michaud campaign pointed fingers and raised false accusations -- followed quickly by a fundraising email. Has anyone asked the Michaud campaign if they are involved with this poll or if one of the groups that supports Michaud is involved?"
Michaud's spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said the campaign was not involved in the poll.
"We can't control baseless accusation or attacks from Gov. LePage, Eliot Cutler or any outside group," Reinholt said. "We're just focused on Mike's positive vision for Maine and his commitment to bringing people together to create an economy that works for everyone. That's the type of campaign Mainers deserve."
The poll uses a live person, rather than an automated system, to ask a series of questions.
According to an audio clip of the survey, a male interviewer asks about the favorability of Cutler and Michaud, but not LePage. The man also asks who the respondent would vote for, if the election were held today. The only demographic information sought by the caller was the respondent's race -- an curious question for a state that is 95 percent white.
Then, there's a question that highlights potential liabilities in Michaud's roughly 30-year voting record (Cutler, of course, has no voting record, since he has never held elective office) and another that seems to test the respondent's willingness to compromise their values get LePage out of office.
The interviewer asks the respondent to choose which statement applies (this questions appears to have been asked twice):
1. It is more important for me to vote for the candidate who is more likely to defeat Paul LePage even if that candidate doesn't reflect my view on the issues best?
2. It is more important to me to vote for the candidate that best reflects my views on issues even if it means Paul LePage gets re-elected?
The interviewer then asks whether the following statement "raises very serious doubts, serious doubts, minor doubts, or no doubts":
Michaud is simply not the best candidate for progressives. In the state Legislature, Michaud voted 19 times against efforts to end discrimination of LGBT people in Maine. He also voted repeatedly against a women's right to choose to have an abortion in Augusta and in Congress. And Michaud has accepted more than $18,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA and voted to weaken gun laws."
The interviewer appears to be calling from Portland, but the number is Voice Over Internet Protocol number, which allows out-of-state callers to place calls from what appears to be a local number. The VOIP is registered to a company called, Level 3. A customer service representative said that number being used and serviced by Twillio, Inc., which did not immediately return an email for comment.
In the absence of facts, speculation is taking hold.
Maine Democrats don't think the Republican Governors Association is behind the ads.
In 2010, a Republican-backed Maine Freedom PAC ran ads supporting Democrat Cynthia Dill in an effort to peel away progressives who were supporting independent Angus King, who ended up winning the U.S. Senate seat. Michael Adams, the general counsel for the Republican Governors Association, was the treasurer of the Maine Freedom PAC and is currently the treasurer of the RGA Maine PAC.
But Ben Grant, who chairs the Maine Democratic Party, isn't buying it. He points the finger at Cutler's campaign.
“Mike Michaud is the frontrunner in the race and it looks like the battle to attack and undermine him will start soon," Grant said in a written statement. "This seems like an attack the Cutler campaign would be interested in and I'd be surprised if it came from the Republican Governor's Association or the LePage campaign."
When asked why he ruled out the RGA, Grant replied through a spokeswoman, "Because the poll was testing the same line of attacks that Cutler uses on the campaign trail and the argument of values versus electability - which is also central to Cutler's argument."
Betsy Smith, who leads the pro-Cutler political action committee, Campaign for Maine, also denied involvement in the poll.
Although some have questioned whether poll is illegal -- some push polling is illegal in Maine, but the criteria to meet that definition is complex, no one has filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission.