Independent Eliot Cutler, left, address his opponents, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, center, and Democrat Mike Michaud, during a debate on Oct. 8 in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Democrats have long believed that if independent Eliot Cutler wasn't on the ballot, they'd have a great shot at unseating unpopular Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R). Well, Cutler's not leaving the race. But he's doing the next best thing for Democratic nominee Mike Michaud: Encouraging supporters to "vote their conscience" and bluntly acknowledging that he is a long shot.

“If you don’t think that I can win, and you want to vote strategically, do that,” Cutler said Wednesday, according to the Bangor Daily News. “But I'd be grateful for your support.”

Cutler's message is this: I'm not dropping out, but let's face it, I probably won't win — so understand that when you cast your ballot. It's a message that could prompt some supporters to consider voting for Michaud instead.

Polls show Michaud and LePage in a close race, with Cutler running a distant third. Strategists believe Cutler pulls more support from Michaud than he does from LePage, because the two are more closely aligned on issues.

In a recognition of this dynamic, the Republican Governors Association has sought to boost Cutler in the hopes he will help peel off more of Michaud's support. Michaud backers have called for Cutler to step aside.

Cutler ran in a three-way race in 2010. He finished ahead of the Democratic nominee and nearly defeated LePage.

Cutler said he “has tried to run a positive campaign and treat voters like adults,” but the “politics of fear” was gripping the election, according to the Portland Press-Herald.