AUGUSTA, Maine – Armed with $900,000 in public funds, Maine's Green Party gubernatorial candidate is feeling a lucky streak, and won't be discouraged by accusations from Democrats that he is a spoiler.
Rep. John Baldacci is the Democratic candidate for governor in the state, and is leading in the polls, but Jonathan Carter, a forest conservation activist, is running in the party whose candidate Ralph Nader picked up 5.7 percent of votes in the 2000 presidential election.
In a five-way race, 35 percent of the popular vote – the same percentage independent Gov. Angus King won in 1994 – is all he needs. King is barred from seeking a third term.
Carter, Director of the Forest Ecology Network, the largest grassroots forest activist network in Maine, is no stranger to elections. In 1992, he ran for Congress and won 9 percent of the vote with only $20,000 and no media buys. This year, he now has the help of public funding, the first time it has become available under Maine's Clean Election Act.
Democrats have challenged his application for public funding every step of the way, an indication that Carter may pose a real challenge to Baldacci, who is not taking public money.
"There's no question, as you peel away votes from your candidate, the margin narrows," said Gwethalyn Phillips, chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Committee.
Baldacci campaign aide Patrick McGowan said Carter, who drives a hybrid electric car and wants to make a giant national park out of much of Northern Maine's forests, is too far from the mainstream to pull votes from Democrats.
"The good news is people know Jonathan Carter now, and what they know they don't like," McGowan said. "Jon Carter is as old news in Maine politics as it gets."
Baldacci, a popular congressman, son of Italian immigrants and restaurateur whose trademark spaghetti suppers fueled his campaigns, seems unbeatable to many. In a Strategic Marketing poll taken last month he was earning 48 percent of the vote, four times the vote of the next nearest candidate.
But the increase in the number of candidates – one of the perceived benefits of Clean Elections laws – creates a lot of unknowns.
"It's like a field of plasma, just constantly in motion," said AFL-CIO president Edward Gorham, whose organization endorsed Baldacci.
Carter and Baldacci will face two independents: David Flanagan, a former Democrat who headed Maine's largest electric utility, and John Michael, a state representative and a term-limits activist. They will also face one of two Republicans, Peter Cianchette or Jim Libby, who are former state legislators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.