- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From their lips to God’s ears? Not anymore.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is on the defensive over candid comments purportedly made in closed-door settings less than a week after a Maryland politician found himself in hot water over comments he made to a group of supporters.

Two Republican state lawmakers told the Portland Press Herald that Mr. LePage said before a crowd at a GOP fundraiser that President Obama could have been the best president ever if he had highlighted his biracial heritage but that he hasn’t done that because he hates white people. Mr. LePage on Tuesday virulently denied the reports, and other lawmakers present told the newspaper that they didn’t hear the comment in question.

The incident follows a series of moments in which politicians, often attempting to distinguish themselves from their opponents and galvanize their supporters, have been tripped up over language or ideas at odds with the image they’ve created for the general public’s consumption.

Just last week, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler defended comments to supporters about how his Democratic primary rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, is short on accomplishments so he is running on the basis of becoming the state’s first black governor.

Mr. Gansler’s comments — revealed to the public through audio recordings obtained by The Washington Post — were made before a small group at an organizing session. Mr. Gansler has not formally announced his bid for governor but is well financed and presumed to be the top challenger to Mr. Brown.

“I mean, right now his campaign slogan is, ‘Vote for me, I want to be the first African-American governor of Maryland,’ ” he could be heard saying in the audio. “That’s a laudable goal, but you need a second sentence: ‘Because here’s what I’ve done, and here’s why I’ve done it.’ “

He’s been criticized by Mr. Brown’s campaign but has stood by the remarks.

Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said because it was so early in the primary race he didn’t think the recording would have much of an impact in a race that hasn’t yet drawn much attention from voters.

“It certainly gives you the indication that the campaigns would be perfectly content to battle one another,” he said.

Still, such comments exemplify the disconnect between how candidates and political operatives work in public and in private.

“We’re always interested to know what these candidates really say when they’re not in front of the cameras — well, here’s an example,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “A candidate or public official can be held accountable for every word spoken, so they simply have to be on their game all the time.”

The closed-door gaffes are bipartisan and range from President Obama’s remarks in 2008 at a private fundraiser referring to small-town communities as having “bitter” residents who “cling to guns or religion” to Mitt Romney’s comments to supporters last year that 47 percent of voters were “dependent upon government” and that his “job is not to worry about those people.”

Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, recently took criticism that he was misleading voters after comments from 2008 resurfaced in which he remarked on advice that “if you want to fight abortion, you’ve got to be willing to fill potholes.”

In his newsletter earlier this month, Mr. Cuccinelli hit back.

“When I made the remark in question, I was talking to folks who share my support for life and the most vulnerable in Virginia. So protecting life was a principle that was important to them,” he wrote. “So, if you want the opportunity to ‘be there’, i.e., in government, to address issues of principle: life, property rights, 2nd Amendment rights, limited government/lower taxes/less regulation, etc., you have to work diligently on everything else, like filling potholes.”

Mr. Cuccinelli signed the newsletter, “Sincerely, Ken Cuccinelli, II — Proud Pothole Filler.”

Analysts say that at any time, anywhere, someone could be there with a recording device and a way to distribute it.

“There was a time where a candidate could go in and talk with people and the press wasn’t there. There was no way to record, and they could feel comfortable talking to people in an unguarded manner the way people actually talk to one another,” Mr. Eberly said. “We live in an age now where it’s so easy to record everything that goes on.”

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