- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Tens of thousands of dollars are pouring into state legislative races, but it’s a mystery when and where Republican Gov. Paul LePage will provide support just weeks before Election Day.

LePage is a registered fundraiser of ICE PAC, a political action committee that has raised almost $330,000 from donors including Maine logging companies and New Hampshire casino moguls to back candidates who support lowering taxes.

“We must stop the ice jam of special interests standing in the way of economic progress,” ICE PAC’s website says.

The money could level the playing field for Republican Senate candidates after Democratic groups reported raising $2.1 million and spending $1.8 million, more than double that raised and spent by the Maine GOP and the Maine Senate Republican majority.

ICE PAC has spent $24,400 on expenditures such as salaries at the Maine GOP, consulting services from a Portland firm and renting the governor’s residence. But it has yet to distribute money to GOP candidates.

LePage, who had no comment on Tuesday, has been at odds with some moderate Republican senators including Senate President Michael Thibodeau. This spring, LePage waded into the Republican primary by endorsing GOP candidates including Guy Lebida, who narrowly beat incumbent Republican Sen. Linda Baker.

In a recent radio interview, LePage painted a bleak picture for Republicans, saying he expects their party will lose the state Senate, putting both chambers in Democratic control. Republicans hold 20 of Maine’s 35 Senate seats, and 14 Republicans are defending their seats.

Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage said he feels “really positive” that Republicans will maintain control of the Senate, but he declined to disclose ICE PAC’s spending strategy. Savage said he thinks LePage gets “discouraged” when he sees politics getting in the way of limiting government and improving the state’s financial issues.

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, suggested any attempt by the polarizing governor to influence individual races “is likely to backfire.”

The governor has been in the news often for the wrong reasons, grabbing national headlines in August for threatening a Democratic legislator and blaming the opioid crisis on blacks and Hispanics. On Tuesday, he used a radio interview to attack the media and suggest Maine’s election could be rigged, stances similar to those of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

All told, Maine’s Republican and Democratic statewide parties and Senate-level PACs have reported spending $672,502 to support and oppose state Senate candidates, campaign reports show. About two-thirds of that money has been spent in races to challenge incumbent Republican Sens. Thibodeau, Scott Cyrway and Rodney Whittemore and Democratic Sens. Susan Deschambault, David Miramant, John Patrick and Christopher Johnson.

The Democratic Party and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee have spent $141,500 in five races for open seats in Republican-controlled districts.

Cyrway and GOP Senate candidates Ricky Long and Bryan Cutchen say they haven’t heard from LePage.

Cutchen called the controversy over LePage’s actions “overly politicized” and said he focuses on LePage’s record on welfare reform and lowering the income tax.

“Mainers are hardworking, and I think they appreciate the idea of limited government and independence,” he said.

GOP senatorial candidate Joyce Maker said she doesn’t expect support from LePage, who endorsed her opponent in the GOP primary. Maker, currently a House member, won handedly with 69 percent of the vote.

“The governor has his way of doing things,” she said. “It’s the people we represent that we need the endorsement from.”

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