Trouble on the horizon for LePage (and Maine Republicans)?

Ethan Strimling (BDN photo by Gabor Degre)

Ethan Strimling (BDN photo by Gabor Degre)

On Saturday I published a piece about a poll with some rough news for Democrats that will be released Tuesday.

Lest you think I was only willing to chat about trouble for Democrats, there is definitely some tough news for Gov. Paul LePage. As a reminder, the survey polled 400 Maine voters from Nov. 25-30, and Patrick Murphy of Pan Atlantic SMS Group, the pollster, allowed me to preview the numbers and write about them on the condition that I not release certain results.

While I am not at liberty to provide the head-to-head-to-head numbers in the governor’s race, there were a few other questions in the poll that can provide some interesting insight into that race and the state of Maine Republicans in general:

  1. While LePage’s favorability overall is a bit higher than it has been in the past, a sizable portion of Republicans now view him unfavorably. I expect many of those are the moderates of the party (see No. 4 below), but regardless, when a significant number in your own party see you in a bad light, you have some work to do.
  2. Murphy asked voters to make a second choice in the race if they determined their first-choice candidate could not win. In response, the number of people who said they would never vote for LePage was significantly higher than those who said the same about Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
  3. When asked if people would be willing to vote strategically to prevent the candidate they don’t want from winning, an overwhelming majority of Michaud and Cutler voters said they would vote for the other to prevent LePage from winning.
  4. Finally, Republicans and independents (since they can enroll and vote in the party primary) were asked, “If a Republican was going to challenge Paul LePage in a primary, which of the following would you most like to see?” They were then given the choices of Peter Mills, Phil Harriman, Peter Vigue, Carol Weston, Roger Katz, and Bruce Poliquin. While I won’t give away the winner, I can say the moderates in this group (Vigue/Harriman/Mills/Katz) took the overwhelming majority of the total that made a choice.

These points tell me a few things.

First, as has been hinted at for awhile, those opposing LePage appear prepared to vote strategically to stop his re-election. This happens less than you might think, although we certainly saw a bit of the “anyone but LePage” phenomenon in 2010 when people shifted their support late in the game from Libby Mitchell to Cutler. This time, assuming these numbers hold, that shift might happen even sooner.

Second, despite the grip LePage holds on the base of his party, there is a sizable chunk that appears to be looking for more moderation. In my opinion, based on the number I have seen, don’t think anyone could beat him in a primary, but when the majority of your party is ready to pick another candidate and when well over a majority of them pick a moderate, that tells you that you might want to shift a bit more to the center.

And honestly, I expect this also speaks to Republicans in the Legislature. I mentioned in the blog this weekend that Dems needed to heed the fact that legislative leaders came in third (behind LePage and Congress) when asked who was helping get the state back on track.

Remember, “legislative leaders” also includes Republicans.

Far be it from me to offer advice to Republicans on how to win an election, but if they want to win back the State House, they’d better stop taking orders from the tea party on issues like health care expansion, budget cuts, the environment and eliminating corporate tax loopholes to balance the budget. On all of these issues, they had a chance to compromise but they chose (and are choosing) obstruction instead.

Actually, that isn’t simply advice on how they can win an election. It is advice on what they should be doing to better our state.