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.

Eliot Cutler, in a white Ford Taurus emblazoned with “Cutler 2010” signs and a license plate reading “NXT GOV,” arrived at Wayfarer Marine, a boatyard on the Camden waterfront, Oct. 4, during a trip through the Midcoast. The candidate toured the facility with Wayfarer CEO Susan Howland, asking workers for their thoughts on the economy and pitching some of the policies he hopes to implement as governor.

Inside one of two large warehouse spaces Cutler introduced himself to several workers, stopping to talk with a carpenter who was repairing the side of a 50-foot sailing yacht that had crashed into some rocks somewhere nearby. The vessel was elevated off the floor of the warehouse and the carpenter was attending to a large patch on the hull.

“I guess he thought he could clear it,” the carpenter said. “It didn’t work out that way.”

Cutler asked some questions about the scope of work done at the boatyard, exiting with Howland into a corridor flanked by offices.

Howland told Cutler that one of the biggest challenges for her company was the cost of health insurance. The company offers an HMO plan that Howland described as the best the company can afford. “But it’s a huge expense,” she said. “It would be nice if employers doing the right thing, stepping up, could get a break.”

Cutler mentioned his “Maine Wellness” plan, which aims to bring down insurance costs by emphasizing primary care, using the state’s financial leverage to “support efficient, high-quality health-care arrangements,” and rewarding “high-quality — not high-volume — care,” among other things.

The two emerged in an adjacent empty warehouse space where Cutler struck up a conversation with a mechanic. The two made small talk and Cutler said, “I hope you think about voting for me.”

“Absolutely,” said the mechanic, then added, “Not absolutely. I’ll think about it.”

A longtime Wayfarer employee joined the mechanic, and Cutler introduced himself, mentioning his own experience working in a boatyard as a young man. It was his second job, a summer gig in Southwest Harbor.

“One of the hardest things for me was stepping masts,” he said.

“I just sit in the crane and do what they tell me to do,” the man said.

Cutler continued: “What worries you guys about Maine?”

The crane operator said half of his friends — skilled laborers — were unemployed. Cutler asked how old they were, and was told that they were in their 30s and 40s. “Where did they work?” Cutler asked, looking for a hook. “In the fishing industry,” the crane operator said.

Cutler seized on the topic. The reason fishermen are having trouble, he said, is that the resale market is dominated by processors based in Canada, where electricity and health-care costs are lower.

The cost of electricity in Maine was a theme he would return to again and again during his conversations with workers in different departments of the boatyard, several times using the example of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont. The business, he said, had planned for years to expand, but had been unable to because of prohibitively high electric rates.

Cutler suggested a number of solutions, including a public power authority, something he said existed in 28 other states and typically led to lower electric rates.

“How can we let ourselves be like Gulliver, wrapped in chains, down on our knees?” he said.

The reference to Gulliver was to the literary character, of course, but also to a large sailing boat outside the warehouse that Cutler had noticed on the way in. Both references appeared to elude his audience. As Cutler continued, the men stared at their boots like schoolchildren waiting to be dismissed.

Maine doesn’t have a public power authority now, Cutler said, “But, boy, it’s a great opportunity if you do it right.”

In the boatyard’s machine shop, Cutler engaged several mechanics and managers in Socratic exchange, starting with a question about their concerns. One talked about the state’s tax base and deteriorating roads.

“What would you do?” Cutler asked.

“Put people back to work,” a machinist said.

“What would you change?” said Cutler.

The machinist responded that a lot of jobs had gone overseas. We would need to bring them back.

“Or replace them,” Cutler said. He offered the example of the growing need for precision machinery and other evolutions of traditional industries. But for those businesses to thrive, he said, conditions need to change.

“Governors don’t create jobs. Employers and investors create jobs,” he said. “The only thing a governor can do is change the conditions.”

“It’s not a partisan problem. We could all figure it out,” he said. But Cutler added that the divisions between the parties had prevented that kind of collaboration: “That’s what I’m trying to change.”

Asked about the prospects of nuclear power generation in Maine, Cutler said the current federal regulations on nuclear energy guaranteed that no new nuclear facilities would be built in his lifetime. As Cutler continued his discourse on the need for cheap electricity, another worker walked in.

“Is he running for something?” the worker asked Howland, who responded that Cutler was running for governor.”

“Cool,” said the worker.

If anything was universal among the people Cutler encountered on this campaign stop, it was that none of them recognized him. This he shrugged off. He was there to introduce himself.

When asked for his views on various subjects, Cutler appeared to genuinely want to educate his audience, giving lengthy explanations of existing policies and precedents for ideas he proposes to pursue as governor.

The approach has led some to criticize him as being condescending, but addressing the question later, Cutler disagreed.

“I’m an educator, not a lecturer, and I’m a communicator, not a dictator,” he said. “I’m actually very approachable and I do well with people.”

In the low-ceilinged machine shop at Wayfarer Marine, Cutler challenged the five people now assembled to guess the most successful new factory in the state.

After a long pause, he answered his own question. It was Backyard Farms of Madison. The company employs 175 people year-round, growing “cocktail tomatoes” in a 24-acre greenhouse complex. And it is doing it in Madison, Cutler said, because the town’s 120-year-old municipal power authority offers cheaper electricity than Central Maine Power.

Cutler brought up the Robbins Lumber anecdote again and repeated how “governors don’t make jobs, they change the conditions.”

After a pause, one of the workers spoke up.

“Hell, I still think a nuclear power plant would be a good idea,” he said.

“It might be,” Cutler said, but added, “If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a truck.”

The workers came back at Cutler with a raft of questions: What was his opinion on the casino proposed for Oxford County? Cutler said he opposed it. What about offshore drilling? “I’ve said they’ll have to drill through me,” Cutler said. “There’s no future out there. The future is in businesses like this.”

Asked for his opinion on health-care costs, Cutler said the state should help small companies self-insure as some of the larger companies in the state have done.

On federal regulations for ground fishermen, Cutler cited the work lobstermen have done to maintain their fisheries, and said the federal government should give broader authority to the fishermen to self-regulate. After nearly an hour in the machine shop, Cutler stepped into the sunshine outside, where he stopped briefly to admire a yacht named Too Elusive.

“What am I doing running for governor?” he joked.

It was only a momentary distraction and he was soon reflecting on the visits he has paid to companies like Wayfarer Marine. “The problem with debates and forums is that you don’t get to have discussions about those things that are really important,” he said. “All you can try to do is get people to go to your Web site.”

Earlier in the day, Cutler had visited small business investors Coastal Enterprises in Wiscasset and met with representatives of Rockland-based Midcoast Magnet, purveyors of the Creative Economy, before heading to Camden.

From Wayfarer Marine, he traveled across the harbor for a question-and-answer session with VillageSoup reporters, held at the apartment of company owner Richard Anderson, a personal friend and supporter of Cutler’s. Anderson has written several columns in support of the candidate, but VillageSoup, in keeping with past elections, has not made a formal endorsement.

Cutler ended the day in Searsport at a closed forum sponsored by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association that included all five candidates for governor fielding questions from an audience of 50 people in a dimly-lit reading room in the Stephen Phillips Memorial Library, part of the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Speaking later, Cutler, who has been edging up in the polls, expressed optimism about the upcoming election.

“I think people are peeling away from the two-party candidates in an accelerated way,” he said. The press had been overly focused on the horse race, he said, “But the people pay attention to the substance.”