Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has received a significant amount of earned media to amplify his repeated calls for early debates with his rivals, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Now his campaign is paying for it.
According to the Cutler campaign, the above 30-second spot is airing in all state markets. In terms of rhetoric, the spot pretty much travels the same path as the independent's previous statements on the issue. Cutler, against a backdrop of an empty auditorium and vacant podiums, says LePage has spurned early debates because "his record is indefensible," while Michaud doesn't want to debate because he's "changed his positions so many times that it's hard to keep track."
He also says that the party candidates want the public to vote early, a reference to the start of early absentee voting.
"If they don't have the courage to debate, how will they have the courage to lead?" Cutler concludes at the end of the ad, a toned-down version of his assertion in July that Michaud and LePage were "cowards."
The message of the ad isn't that new, but the medium may reach a wider audience and achieve a different impact. While newspapers and television media have extensively covered the debate issue, the spot wisely leaves out the strategic details that may explain why LePage and Michaud aren't willing to debate early. Michaud and LePage are in a statistical dead heat, while Cutler is far behind. It's not in the interest of the Michaud campaign to elevate the profile of a candidate who could siphon votes (although it might be in LePage's interest). Additionally, there are six debates scheduled for October, but that's not good enough for Cutler, whose campaign is racing the clock of early voting and polling a distant third, two factors that may make him a tough choice for the anti-LePage voters.
The ad acknowledges the early voting dynamic. It asks Mainers to wait for the debates before voting.
It's unclear if the ad will achieve its objective. The public exchanging of ideas obviously means a lot to the independent's candidacy, but the issue may not be atop the list of concerns for Mainers.