Editor’s note: VillageSoup requested the opportunity to follow each of the five gubernatorial candidates for part of a day on the campaign trail, while they were in our coverage area, in hopes of giving our readers a more informal look at the candidates at work. Two candidates, Eliot Cutler and Libby Mitchell, agreed to have a reporter follow them while on the campaign trail in the Midcoast.

A week before the general election, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell passed through Belfast making a number of stops, accompanied by fellow Democrats State Senate District 23 hopeful John Piotti and House District 43 candidate Erin Herbig.

The group, which also included a Mitchell assistant and Waldo County Democratic Committee Chairman Neal Harkness, first convened outside the Unitarian Universalist Church. They introduced themselves to parishioners who were arriving for a 10 a.m. service, but stopped short of going into the church.

Mitchell recalled a recent appearance before the congregation at St. George’s Episcopal Church in York and said she came away feeling uneasy about the intersection of church and state. “I talked a bit, but mostly they wanted to ask questions. They were very open,” she said.

Most of those arriving at the Belfast UU Church seemed happy to see Mitchell and wished her well. During the quiet moments Mitchell and Piotti commiserated about the plight of state officeholders in an election season energized by discontent. Both said they had been fighting for solutions to problems that, to date, their opponents had only complained about.

During the economic downturn, Mitchell, who has defended the state government’s efforts to reduce taxes, said Maine had done better than most states. “But at the same time, because people are hurting, my opponents can tap into ‘change’ and call me the status quo,” she said.

The group headed down High Street to the Belfast Co-op, where Mitchell circulated among diners in the Co-op’s crowded cafe, introducing herself with apologies for interrupting breakfasts in progress. Most didn’t seem to mind. Some nodded politely and went on eating.

Before the group left, Mitchell got in line to get a coffee, offering one to Piotti, who declined — after this he was “doing doors,” (door-to-door campaigning), he said. It was a practical decision. He didn’t want to have to ask to use people’s bathrooms.

Someone suggested getting coffee at the next stop, Chase’s Daily, a family-run vegetarian restaurant, and across the street they went. The group walked in the back door with Herbig and Piotti in front, but Mitchell quickly called them back for a huddle.

At the other end of the restaurant, a young, well-dressed man was sitting at the counter leaning over a cup of coffee — a tracker from the Republican Governors Association whom Mitchell had publicly called out earlier in the election season for an approach she saw as intentionally intimidating.

Democrats employ trackers too — agents who videotape candidates’ public appearances, ostensibly looking for gaffs — but Mitchell’s objection was not with the tracking itself but how the Republicans were doing it.

“It’s chilling to everyday citizens,” she said, Sunday, “They’re talking [to me] about their businesses and their families and there’s a guy standing there with a microphone.”

As Mitchell made her way into the restaurant, the young man rose and took a station by the door, bringing out a camcorder. From then on, he traveled with the party, part documentarian, part stalker.

When asked if he had come to Chase’s specifically to catch up with Mitchell, the tracker offered a correction: “Not chase. Track. I’m tracking her.”

No, Chase’s Daily. The restaurant.

“Oh yeah,” said the tracker. “Great restaurant.”

He had been at the church earlier, he said, but he didn’t want to bother the candidates there. “I don’t step on holy ground,” he said.

Down the street at The Green Store, a shop selling environmentally-minded goods, Mitchell greeted an apparently delighted clerk. “Olympia Snowe never comes in,” she said.

Mitchell asked how business was.

“For us it’s good,” the clerk said. “Not like it was two years ago, but close to where it was before.”

Asked later how she decided which businesses to visit — a list that, so far, read like a tour of liberal Belfast — Mitchell said she was following suggestions from Harkness.

Harkness laughed at the idea that they had specifically sought out a sympathetic audience. These were pretty much the only businesses open on Sunday, he said.

Later Mitchell addressed the topic again, saying she feels strongly about talking to people informally face to face. The gubernatorial candidates have held around 30 debates, she said, and while each has had a slightly different focus depending upon who was hosting the event, the formal structure of many of the debates made it difficult to answer complex questions.

“You have a minute to talk about how you’re going to fix the economy,” she said.

The candidates made brief stops at Trustworthy hardware and Colburn Shoe, then walked up the street to the Democratic Party Headquarters, where volunteers and several other local candidates were preparing for a rally at Post Office Square.

Piotti engaged House District 44 representative Andy O’Brien of Lincolnville, who is running for re-election.

“Still taxing babies?” he said.

Piotti’s remark was in reference to a recent mailer claiming O’Brien had voted for a tax on the delivery of babies. Neither Piotti nor O’Brien claimed to understand the logic of the ad, which was accompanied by an image of a baby looking surprised.

Thirty supporters were waiting for the candidates in front of the Belfast post office, bearing signs for Mitchell and Piotti. Both addressed the congregants from the steps, overlooking downtown Belfast. Herbig was introduced but didn’t speak.

Piotti challenged the Republican view of longtime politicians like himself and Mitchell as keepers of the status quo. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Mitchell expressed exasperation about the attacks mounted against her. “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a fact-free zone,” she said.

“We’re the ones who cleaned up Maine’s rivers, helped Main Streets thrive and grow and fought for businesses,” she said. “All over the country they want you to vote the people out because [they say] they’re the ones who did this.”

Mitchell said she believes outside factors played a much larger role in the pain Mainers are feeling today. She implored her supporters to talk to other voters before Election Day.

“It doesn’t matter about the signs,” she said. There were a lot of signs, and after a pause she added, “I like the signs,” then continued. “It doesn’t matter about the ads. It’s about talking to people.”

The rally ended at noon. Next Mitchell was headed to Ellsworth, then Bar Harbor, then Blue Hill. According to her assistant, it was a busy day, but not unusually so.