PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Independent candidate Eliot Cutler said Wednesday he won't drop out of the heated three-way race for governor of Maine, despite increasing pressure from voters who view him as a spoiler who will ensure another term for Republican incumbent Paul LePage.
Cutler, who lost to LePage by 10,000 votes in 2010, acknowledged that the odds of him winning the race are long and reiterated his earlier statements that if voters don't believe he can, they should vote for someone else. He said he offers an important choice to voters who are sick of the two major political parties, and he urged Maine residents to "vote their conscience."
His challenge apparently was heard by fellow independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who announced hours later that he was dropping Cutler as his candidate of choice in the governor's race and throwing his support behind Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
"It is clear that the voters of Maine are not prepared to elect Eliot in 2014," King said in a statement. "This was not an easy decision, but I think the circumstances require that those of us who have supported Eliot look realistically at the options before us at this critical moment in Maine history."
Polls show Cutler in a distant third behind LePage and Michaud, who are neck and neck.
Michaud supporters have been increasingly pushing the idea that a vote for Cutler is a vote for LePage and are urging liberal voters to unite behind the Democrat to prevent the same split vote that helped the Republican governor win four years ago.
New ads this week from California billionaire Tom Steyer's group NextGen Climate declare that "if you want Paul LePage to take a hike, you've got to vote for Mike." The group's Maine state director, Ben Waxman, said in a statement Wednesday that Cutler's comments only "further reinforced that this is really a two-person race between Gov. LePage and Mike Michaud."
Cutler acknowledged that "gripping fear" is driving many voters to support one of his opponents "with a strategic vote against the other." He said he's been getting anonymous letters at home and emails from people asking him to leave the race. He said someone placed a large sign outside his house the other morning that just read "Please..."
"I am a realist about my chances," Cutler said. "But I'll be damned if I will kowtow to party politics and allow a bunch of polls to drown out the voices of thousands of Maine people who believe that standing for principles, ideals and ideas makes you an American and not a spoiler."
He added: "I am not standing down and neither should those voters whose consciences compel them to cast a vote for me, for their hopes and not their fears, as they share my optimism for a rewarding Election Day."
He later said he was disappointed but not deterred by King's change of heart.
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