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Fringe nominees of the two parties must please Cutler

The challenges ahead are too much for Democrat Libby Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage.

Maine voters have spoken -- at least 30-odd percent of them have. The results of the heralded gubernatorial primaries turned out to be unfortunately predictable: The most conservative of the seven Republican candidates, Paul LePage, and the most liberal of the four Democratic candidates, Libby Mitchell, won.

What was atypical this year was the Republican turnout, higher than normal for a primary election year with no national races on the ballot, and LePage's significant margin of victory in a crowded field.

For those of us who are more moderate in our political views -- and I continue to believe that is the majority of us in this state -- this is a disappointing outcome.

Maine faces many challenges. It is not an exaggeration to say that Maine is the "Greece" of American states.

The state has a sizeable chronic budget deficit that is choking off needed investment in jobs and higher education, an over-generous welfare system driven by rapidly escalating Medicaid costs, and a K-12 education system that soaks up dollars yet produces neither better student results nor adequate pay for teachers.

One would have to be naive to believe that Mitchell is capable of taking on these issues. Under Mitchell's leadership in Augusta, these problems have been fueled rather than addressed. Mitchell has been against school consolidation, against accountability for student results, and foursquare for ever-more-generous levels of social services.

She talks about balancing budgets, but in fact the real credit lies not with Mitchell but with excellent leadership in the Appropriations Committee. She talks about working with Republicans, yet she is known as one of the most partisan leaders in Augusta.

Mitchell is no friend to business, either. She is consistently rated in the bottom quartile (on a scale of 1-100) by the pro-business Maine Economic Research Institute.

In the last legislative session, she championed another business-cost mandate -- extra days of paid sick leave. This idea was viewed as so out of touch with the reality of Maine's precarious economic situation that even the notoriously liberal Labor Committee did not support it.

In sum, Mitchell is not the person to lead Maine in the 21st century.

Of LePage, much less is known. He has been modestly successful in small city politics and business. He has an Horatio Alger biography in overcoming much early hardship to gain an education and business success.

LePage ran an adequate but hardly inspiring campaign. He sounded gruff and made sure everyone knew he was a conservative with a capital "C."

I like his fiscal conservatism and little else about his policy positions. In fact, most of his policy positions are little developed so it is difficult to determine how he would actually deliver on them.

For example, he says he would lower the income tax to 5 percent by cutting state programs, yet he does not suggest what he would cut, except possibly welfare, and gives no indication how he would bring legislators on board for such drastic action.

He is largely untested on statewide issues. He will have many questions to answer about his ability to step up to the position of governor. From what I have seen, at this point he is a high risk.

Beyond philosophical differences, I am simply not convinced LePage is talented enough and experienced enough to be a good governor.

Which leads me to one of the few non-LePage, non-Mitchell supporters who must feel pretty good this week -- independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

For someone whose political views are that of a moderate, Cutler got his dream opponents for November: Mr. Right and Ms. Left.

In a state where independents outnumber both Republicans and Democrats, Cutler has a golden opportunity to become Maine's third independent governor, following Angus King and James Longley.

Moreover, Cutler has an eye for public policy solutions that are as creative and thoughtful as Mitchell's are routine and tired. Cutler also has as much or more intellectual toughness as LePage and considerably more experience.

If Cutler's message gets out there and resonates with the average Mainer, he will be difficult to beat.

I am looking forward to the coming campaign because each of these three candidates will offer Mainers clear and distinct differences in policy, style, and approach.

For those of you who have been on the sidelines, reflect on these candidates over the summer and get involved this fall.

There is too much at stake not to have a good sense of who will get your vote in November.