By Dave Sherwood
PORTLAND Maine (Reuters) - Senator Angus King endorsed Maine’s independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler on Monday, a boost his supporters hope could change the dynamics of one of the country’s most closely contested gubernatorial races.
King, a former two-term governor and one of only two independents in the U.S. Senate, touted the advantages of non-partisanship at a news conference announcing his endorsement of Cutler.
"In an age of partisanship, an independent governor has to work with both sides,” King said. “That means casting the widest possible net and not saying, ‘I’m just going to go for the Democrats, or the Republicans, or the unenrolled.”
Cutler, a former Washington attorney, has trailed far behind Tea Party-backed incumbent Republican Paul Lepage and U.S. Democratic Representative Mike Michaud, who are in a dead heat, according to recent polls.
In the 2010 governor’s race in Maine, Cutler posted a late-season surge following a similar endorsement from King, garnering more votes than the Democratic candidate but losing by 2 percentage points to Lepage.
Like many of his fellow freshman Republican governors, Lepage rode a wave of enthusiasm in 2010 from the conservative Tea Party movement.
This time, many observers say both Lepage and Michaud, a former mill worker who would be the country’s first governor to declare he is gay before taking office, may be less susceptible to pressure from a third-party candidate.
“People have been informed by the 2010 race and are very wary of splitting the non-Lepage vote,” said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, visited Maine and pledged “millions of dollars” in support of Lepage’s campaign.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Beech)