AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage sometimes can’t help mouthing off, once telling the Portland chapter of the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” calling the IRS “the new Gestapo” and saying he wouldn’t be afraid to tell President Barack Obama to “go to hell.”
But instead of downplaying his penchant for putting his foot in his mouth, Republicans hoping to re-elect him are embracing it.
New television ads from the Republican Governors Association applaud LePage’s accomplishments like erasing hospital debt and cutting taxes while touting his bull-in-a-China-shop approach, calling him “blunt, honest, one-of-a-kind” and “unique, just like Maine.”
The GOP is trying to get out in front of what’s sure to be a barrage of attacks this fall from Democrats, who are eager to remind voters of LePage’s candid and sometimes off-color remarks, which they say have offended Maine residents and tarnished the state’s national image.
“Just like we’ve discovered that one of LePage’s greatest vulnerabilities is that he has embarrassed the state of Maine, they’re trying to figure out a way to put a positive spin on something that really doesn’t lend itself to any kind of positive,” said Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.
But LePage is hoping to prove that “actions speak louder than words” and that he has helped turn Maine around by implementing a $400 million tax cut, overhauling the state’s welfare programs and paying hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the state’s hospitals.
“I use the tools that I have available to move the state forward,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “And I do believe whole heartedly, because my conscience guides my actions ... that I have made a big improvement in this state.”
Titled “Unique,” the latest ad released this week opens with images of politicians who are “blow dried,” fit the “cookie-cutter model” or “always have the perfect sound bite.”
“And then there’s Paul LePage,” it says.
Grant said that while the ad attempts to portray the governor as your goofy uncle who says some things that aren’t politically correct, LePage has too often crossed the line and embarrassed Maine.
LePage has called state government middle managers “corrupt as can be,” dismissed the dangers of a chemical additive used in some plastic bottles by saying the worst that could happen was “some women may have little beards” and used a sexual vulgar phrase to describe how he believed a Democratic state lawmaker was taking advantage of Maine people.
The RGA says it’s spending about $500,000 on the ad and a similar one released earlier this month.
The organization is headed by another outspoken governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who has already made two campaign trips to Maine this summer and pledged that his organization will spend anything it needs to ensure LePage a victory in his fierce battle with Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
Republicans are hoping to galvanize LePage’s core group of supporters — the 39 percent of voters who helped him win in a five-way race in 2010 — who believe that “you have to take the good with the bad” when it comes to LePage, said Brian Duff, political science professor with the University of New England.
But that won’t stop Democrats, who say the governor has turned Maine into a punchline on late-night television, from using his words against him on the campaign trail and ads of their own this fall, he said.
LePage acknowledges that his candor has sometimes gotten him in trouble, but makes no apologies for it, saying it helped him find a way to get off the street when he was young and homeless.
He tells his wife that if he ever becomes politically correct, she needs to make him get out of office, he said.
“Sometimes when you’re politically correct, people don’t pay attention,” he said. “In order to get somebody’s attention you have to say something that people remember.”
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