- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FREEPORT, Maine — Four years ago, he won office by threading an electoral needle. He has a penchant for going off-color, he has staked out conservative positions dramatically at odds with Maine voters — and now Gov. Paul LePage is one of the most endangered Republican politicians heading into November’s elections.

Mr. LePage rode into office as part of the tea party wave of 2010, but rather than cater to Maine’s liberal-leaning, independent-heavy voters, he has worked to solidify his support among grass-roots conservatives and tea partyers, who applaud his smashmouth style of politics as well as the policy changes he has tried to make in the state’s public assistance programs.

“He’s got a really ardent core of support that seems pretty unshakable,” said James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

But that has left him vulnerable from the left, where most of the state’s voters seem to be.

Independent election observers — including the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics — give Mr. LePage no better than even odds to defeat challengers Rep. Michael H. Michaud, a Democrat, and Eliot Cutler, the independent who nearly defeated Mr. LePage in the 2010 election.

Maine joins Pennsylvania among states where Republican governors elected in that 2010 wave are most likely to lose this year.

The LePage camp says it is confident that a majority of Maine voters agree with what the governor stands for and what he has accomplished.

“Not everybody likes the governor’s style, but they can all agree that he gets things done and you always know where he stands,” said Alex Willette, LePage campaign spokesman, claiming his economic agenda has helped drive the state’s unemployment rate from 8 percent to 5.5 percent on his watch.

“He’s not a career politician, and after 40 years of one-party Democratic rule in Maine, people appreciate that,” Mr. Willette said.

The 2010 election cycle was strong for Republicans nationally and in Maine, where they won control of both chambers of the State House in Augusta for the first time since 1974.

Still, Mr. LePage needed to win a seven-way primary and a five-way general election to get into office. His 38.3 percent barely topped Mr. Cutler’s 36.5 percent, and the Democratic candidate, Libby Mitchell, received more than 19 percent of the vote.

This time, a University of New Hampshire poll shows Mr. LePage and Mr. Michaud running neck and neck, with Mr. Cutler, the independent, running a distant third. Mr. LePage’s re-election hopes, the poll showed, could hinge on Mr. Cutler’s ability to peel votes away from Mr. Michaud.

Howie Carr, a Portland-born Boston conservative talk show host, said as much at a Cumberland County GOP convention this month, urging Republicans to tell their non-Republican “moonbat” friends to vote for Mr. Cutler.

“I think it’s really important, given the demographics of the state, to keep Eliot Cutler a viable option,” he said, according to the Bangor Daily News. As he closed out his speech, he delivered one more reminder to the GOP faithful: “This is a good year for Maine, and again, don’t forget Eliot Cutler. He helped Paul LePage in 2010.”

Mr. Melcher, however, said voters seem to be taking a strategic approach against the governor, looking “for whoever they think has the best chance to knock him off.”

His time in office has made Mr. LePage more polarizing.

He has made off-color references about state lawmakers. He said the NAACP could “kiss my butt” if it did not like him skipping out on their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, which included a prison visit, and countered the charges of bad blood by noting that he has a black adopted son. He also questioned the science behind banning bisphenol A, or BPA, a common plastics additive that the Maine Legislature was trying to curb, saying the “worst case is some women may have little beards.”

It’s not just his style.

Mr. LePage has set a record for vetoes. His number skyrocketed after Democrats retook control of the Legislature in 2013.

The governor has axed measures that included gun controls and Medicaid expansion.

Democrats recently aired their frustration at the state party’s annual Muskie Lobster Bake.

The event served as a showcase for Mr. Michaud and included a keynote address from James Carville, the mastermind behind Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Mr. Michaud promised, if elected, to work across party lines and to chart a new course for the state. He said he would expand Medicaid and try to make Maine a leader in clean-energy development.

“For the last 3 years,” Mr. Michaud said, “we’ve watched as Gov. LePage has led the state on a dangerous path — a path where ideology and extremism takes precedence over the needs over the people here in the state of Maine.”

Mr. Carville said Maine’s reputation for producing statesmen such as former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, a Democrat, and former Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican, is on the line.

Mr. LePage pales in comparison, he said.

“These are like giants. In the midst of that, these giant pines, we have a toothpick standing behind them,” Mr. Carville said.

He then paused to suggest that he might have given the Republican governor too much credit.

“Maybe, a piece of sawdust,” he said.

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