Shying from Trump, ex-Maine Gov. Paul LePage seeks job back

Oct 1, 2022, 6:21 AM | Updated: 6:35 am
FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is welcomed to the stage by Maine Gov. Paul L...

FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is welcomed to the stage by Maine Gov. Paul LePage at campaign stop in Portland, Maine, in this March 3, 2016 file photo. LePage, who moved to Florida after his second term, has returned to Maine to challenge Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

YARMOUTH, Maine (AP) — When then-Maine Gov. Paul LePage endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, he credited himself as a prototype for the insurgent presidential candidate.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we are one of the same cloth,” said LePage, whose two terms in office were punctuated by brash behavior and frequently offensive comments.

Now, as LePage is running for a third term after a brief retirement to Florida, he rarely talks about Trump in public, and his advisers say LePage’s hiatus from politics changed him. He’s eager to show he’s smoothed over some of his own rough edges, though flashes of his fiery personality broke through recently at an event at a riverfront boatyard in Yarmouth, where he pledged to take on Democratic “elitists.”

“I came from the streets. I was a fighter all my life,” LePage told workers. “I had to scrimp and save to eat and survive. I am a fighter.”

As LePage seeks to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and become the longest-serving governor in Maine history, he is banking on an approach familiar to other Republican candidates in liberal- and moderate-leaning states who are trying not to alienate swing voters they would need to win a general election. LePage’s efforts at putting distancing from Trump are particularly notable given LePage once invited comparisons to Trump — and made them himself.

Democrats aren’t going to let voters forget LePage’s tumultuous time in office, when he occasionally acted and sounded a lot like Trump. LePage attracted national headlines when he told the Portland chapter of the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” made racist remarks about drug dealers who impregnate “white” girls and accused a lawmaker of screwing over state taxpayers “without providing Vaseline.”

His critics point to a recent campaign event in which LePage threatened to “deck” a Democratic staffer who got too close to him — an incident, they say, that illustrates LePage hasn’t changed at all.

The race is shaping up to be among a dozen or so competitive contests for governor this election year. The way in which the campaign plays out with voters weary of political ugliness may be a harbinger for Trump’s White House aspirations in 2024.

LePage and Mills’ adversarial relationship goes back years.

Mills, a 74-year-old moderate and the first woman elected governor of Maine, is a former two-term attorney general whose stint as the state’s top prosecutor coincided with LePage’s time as governor. The two clashed publicly, with Mills declining to represent LePage’s administration on some matters, forcing LePage to seek outside counsel to represent his interests in litigation.

Her supporters portray her as a steady leader whose cautious COVID-19 policies helped guide the state through the worst pandemic in a century, with fewer coronavirus deaths per capita than most others. She expanded Medicaid — something LePage had blocked — and presided over the largest budget surplus in Maine history, which allowed the state to send $850 relief checks to most residents.

Raised in poverty and homeless for a time as a boy, LePage, 73, is an unabashed conservative whose past controversies often overshadowed his political achievements, such as lowering the tax burden, shrinking welfare rolls, overhauling the pension system and paying back millions of dollars of hospital debt.

He attacked Mills’ executive orders during the pandemic, including mandatory vaccines for health care workers, calling it a “reign of terror.” He’s called for a parental bill of rights in education, claimed Mill has allowed crime and drugs to proliferate and accused her of budgetary gimmicks that will cause problems in the future. He has promised to try again to eliminate the state’s income tax.

When LePage left office in 2019, prevented from seeking a third consecutive term by the Maine Constitution, he declared he was decamping for Florida, where the taxes were lower, and leaving politics behind.

He didn’t stay away long. Soon, he was headed back to Maine for what supporters described as “LePage 2.0.”

LePage’s senior adviser Brent Littlefield said LePage was astounded when Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and that LePage fears the country is in danger of tearing itself apart. LePage issued a statement amid the violence supporting law enforcement and telling those involved in the riot “to leave and go home.”

LePage served as Trump’s honorary state chairman and once sought a job in his administration, but he now won’t say whether he would vote for Trump for president if Trump runs again in 2024. Despite any private misgivings, however, LePage hasn’t condemned Trump. He declined an Associated Press interview request.

The former governor made no reference to Trump while touring Yankee Marina & Boatyard, even though Trump remains popular in rural Maine, where he twice won an electoral vote while losing the statewide vote.

Boatyard president Deborah Delp said LePage is needed at a time when her workers are suffering from high inflation and worried about the future.

She said she can “handle some rough language” from LePage if he puts the economy on track. “Politicians are politicians. And he’s not a politician. He’s a businessman. He says what he thinks,” Delp said.

Maria Testa, a Democrat from Portland, disagrees. “He’s bombastic and has a cruel temper. He’s such a big no for me,” Testa said.

While campaigning, LePage largely tries to steer clear of Trump’s lies of a rigged 2020 election. LePage acknowledges that Biden is president but declines to address whether he thinks the election was legitimate. LePage also avoids the issue of abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

Mills has pledged to fight to ensure women continue to have a right to a legal abortion in Maine.

A third candidate for governor, independent Sam Hunkler, isn’t expected to play much of a role in the race, unlike deep-pocketed independent Eliot Cutler, who did in 2010 and 2014, when LePage won each election without a majority.

Maine’s ranked-choice voting system won’t be a factor. It is used in federal congressional races but not in the governor’s contest because it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

Betsy Martin, a retired health care administrator from Biddeford, said residents are feeling drained by the corrosive partisanship in a rural state with a tradition of moderate politics and independent voters. Some are tuning out altogether, she said.

“They’re exhausted. They’re extremely fatigued. We’re worn out,” she said.

___

Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP

___

Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for January delivery fell 44 cents to $71.02 a barrel Friday. Brent crude for February delivery fell 5 cents to $76.10 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline for January delivery rose 1 cent to $2.06 a gallon. January heating oil fell 9 cents to $2.79 a gallon. January natural gas rose 28 cents […]
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Pricey pants from 1857 go for $114k, raise Levi’s questions

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Pulled from a sunken trunk at an 1857 shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina, work pants that auction officials describe as the oldest known pair of jeans in the world have sold for $114,000. The white, heavy-duty miner’s pants with a five-button fly were among 270 Gold Rush-era artifacts that […]
14 hours ago
FILE - Oranges rot on the ground on Oct. 12, 2022, at Roy Petteway's Citrus and Cattle Farm after t...
Associated Press

USDA: Florida orange crop down 36% after twin hurricanes

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Production of oranges in Florida this season is forecast to be down 36% from earlier estimates, in part a reflection of twin hurricanes that battered growing regions, according to U.S. Agriculture Department figures released Friday. The latest forecast calls for about 18 million boxes of oranges to be produced in […]
14 hours ago
FILE - A JetBlue Airbus A320 taxis to a gate on Oct. 26, 2016, after landing, as an American Airlin...
Associated Press

American, JetBlue expand deal that US is trying to kill

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are pushing ahead with an expansion of their partnership in the Northeast, even as a federal judge considers the government’s attempt to kill the deal. The airlines said Friday that American will add six new routes from New York City while dropping one. JetBlue will […]
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Guyana opens bidding on 14 new offshore oil, gas blocks

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana on Friday opened bidding on 14 new offshore oil and gas blocks, hoping to capitalize on interest in lucrative fields that are expected to make the South American nation a major oil producer. Guyana is home to one of the largest oil discoveries in the last decade. In 2019, two […]
14 hours ago
FILE - TK Holdings Inc. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., is pictured on June 25, 2017. U.S. saf...
Associated Press

US reports another Takata air bag death, bringing toll to 33

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. safety regulators and Honda Motor Co. are urging drivers once again to make sure their vehicles haven’t been recalled after another person was killed by an exploding Takata air bag. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday that the person was killed in a crash involving a 2002 Honda Accord […]
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Shying from Trump, ex-Maine Gov. Paul LePage seeks job back