I contacted the three candidates vying for the Blaine House and invited them out for a beer. Both Mike Michaud (D) and Eliot Cutler (I) responded with an immediate ‘yes.’ Incumbent Paul LePage (R), unfortunately, declined my multiple invitations, citing a busy campaign schedule. My only request for the candidates who accepted my invitation was that they pick the location and the beer. From there, I had no political agenda. I shared my beer with Mike Michaud at Banded Horn Brewing in Biddeford last week. This week I sit down with Eliot Cutler at Brian Boru in Portland.
Eliot Cutler strides through the ground floor of Brian Boru with the charisma of a man running for governor. Justin Schair, his campaign manager, and I follow him to the patio on this warm September afternoon as the Friday patrons gape at the gubernatorial candidate.
By the time we take our seats at a yellow picnic table under the late summer sun, there isn’t anyone in Brian Boru who isn’t abuzz with Cutler’s presence.
A waitress asks what we’re drinking. I motion to Cutler, “Your choice.”
He asks the waitress, “Do you have anything from Baxter Brewing?”
“We have the Stowaway IPA on draft,” she says.
We order three Stowaways, and I ask, “Why did you choose to meet at Brian Boru?”
Cutler explains that the owner, Daniel Steele, is a big supporter of his campaign, and he likes the atmosphere of the bright red Irish pub on Center Street in Portland. It’s also walking distance from his office.
“And why Baxter’s Stowaway IPA?”
“Luke Livingston is a supporter of my campaign,” he says. “Not only that, he’s a young entrepreneur, and I want to support people like him.”
The waitress sets down the pints. The Lewiston-made beers glow a golden amber under the sun. She looks at Cutler and asks, “Is there anything else you want to try? I can bring you samples of any beer.” The offer is clearly for Cutler and not for his campaign manager or me. (If a gubernatorial candidate is regularly offered free beer, maybe I’ll run in 2018.)
Cutler declines. He turns to me and starts inquiring about my life. He wants to know what I do. Do I make a living from writing? Have I written a book? Do I like teaching? These questions don’t feel like a campaign trick to give the illusion of a candidate who cares about the people. Cutler holds eye contact and nods at the right moments. He tells me that he loves my entrepreneurial spirit to be a writer.
As we talk and sip from our nicely hopped Baxter IPAs, Daniel Steele, the aforementioned owner of Brian Boru, approaches the table with another man. Steele calls Cutler by his first name and introduces his companion as a doctor. The doctor shakes Cutler’s hand, then tells the governor hopeful something that Cutler must have been told innumerable times over the past year: I voted for you last election, but I can’t vote for you this time.
Unflinching, Cutler launches into a well-rehearsed answer about Maine’s affinity for Independent candidates. “All I’m asking,” he urges the doctor, “is that people vote for the candidate they believe will make the best governor.”
As their conversation continues, a small crowd surrounds our table. I find myself inside the bubble that surrounds Cutler and the other candidates fighting for the Blaine House everyday. I sip my Stowaway IPA and relish this moment of being on the inside, watching a well-spoken man explain to the good people of Maine why they should vote for him in November.