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Maine Rep. Mike Michaud (D) official portrait
Mike Michaud would crush Paul LePage—
if only he could
PPP's new Maine poll has news that's both encouraging and depressing for Democrats hoping to get rid of the odious Paul LePage. First, the good news: LePage is one of the most unpopular governors in the country, with a miserable 39-55 job approval rating. The bad news, though, is pretty bad: If independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who allowed LePage to eke out a narrowly plurality win in 2010 thanks to his second-place finish, were to run again ... the same thing would happen again. Here are the results of various three-way trial heats with LePage, Cutler and various Democrats:

• LePage 34, Michaud 30, Cutler 26

• LePage 37, Pingree 31, Cutler 23

• LePage 36, Cutler 29, Baldacci 27

• LePage 37, Cutler 32, Mills 19

• LePage 37, Cutler 32, Strimling 15

The best Team Blue can do is second place, which is where Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree both wind up. Other options—ex-Gov. John Baldacci, Attorney General Janet Mills, and ex-state Sen. Ethan Strimling—fare worse, and I should point out that none of these would-be candidates are actually running at present. What's so teeth-gnashy about this is how badly LePage performs in one-on-one scenarios, without the left-leaning Cutler in the mix:

• 36-57 vs. Michaud

• 38-53 vs. Baldacci

• 40-53 vs. Pingree

• 41-49 vs. Cutler

Tom Jensen suggests that Democrats either have to pray Cutler doesn't run, or rally around him as they did with independent ex-Gov. Angus King's Senate bid last year and put forward an exceptionally weak nominee who doesn't split enough of the vote to make a difference. But I can't say I like plan B very much: For one, it allows Cutler to play hostage-taking politics with the Democratic Party, and for another, Cutler is actually the weakest possible opponent for LePage, according to these numbers. He doesn't have King's pedigree and profile, and even if Democrats nominate an utter Some Dude, the race would still look pretty much like a tossup.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

I'm more hopeful that a Michaud candidacy could persuade Cutler to pursue Plan A: sit out and let Democrats wreck shop. Indeed, Michaud has exceptional statewide favorables at 58-23 and, as you can see, a head-to-head would be no contest. Unfortunately, Michaud hasn't given much indication he's interested, and I wonder if he'd have a slightly difficult time in a hypothetical primary, given his conservative views on some issues like abortion. Here's what PPP found in a kitchen-sink environment:

John Baldacci: 28
Chellie Pingree: 21
Mike Michaud: 19
Emily Cain: 6
Janet Mills: 4
Jeremy Fischer: 2
Ethan Strimling: 3
Steve Woods: 0
Other/undecided: 16

Obviously, a field like this would never take shape—certainly I can't imagine Pingree and Michaud running against one another. But I'm a little surprised to see Baldacci, who was never terribly popular, in the lead, even if only narrowly; his favorables are underwater at 40-46, but among Dems, he's at 62-24. Michaud definitely doesn't have any problems with his own party, though: He's at 75-10 with Democrats, so I'm guessing Baldacci, who served two terms, retains the edge thanks largely to familiarity.

In any event, hope is not a plan, and Democrats will have to find a way to deal with Cutler. Perhaps they can terrify him into imagining what another four years of LePage would look like. Hey, it's worth a shot.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 11:21 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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