Big LePage win reveals appeal beyond Tea Party

Posted June 09, 2010, at 11:40 p.m.

Paul LePage, one of the most conservative of the seven candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, likely benefited from the Tea Party movement at the polls Tuesday.

But his landslide victory in the primary resulted from a broader public appeal, according to some political experts.

“A lot of the people are embracing the philosophy of the Tea Party and came over to the Republicans as the logical alternative to the continued fiscal disaster that this state has become,” said Bill Chapman, chairman of the Knox County Republican Committee.

The Knox County delegation was the driving force behind a successful effort last month to persuade the Maine Republican Party to adopt a platform based on key principles of the conservative Tea Party movement.

While those ideals have spread, he said, it was not the Tea Partiers alone who swung the election in LePage’s favor. LePage’s grass-roots, door-to-door efforts helped, too, Chapman said.

“We received a lot of support from those [voters] who were previously unenrolled,” he said. “They were out there knocking on doors, going to friends — friends they knew were Democrats. Those people unenrolled in the Democrat Party back in May so they could vote for Paul LePage. I’ve heard that a lot from people in Knox County.”

Doug Hodgkin, a professor emeritus in political science from Bates College in Lewiston, said he too noticed many unenrolled voters choosing to vote Republican on Tuesday when he worked the polls, but he could not attribute that phenomenon to LePage or the Tea Party.

“It’s hard to analyze the Tea Party because it is such an amorphous movement that people can go in and out without us knowing exactly how many people support them. I think its influence and existence as a particular movement is overrated nationally as well as in Maine, so I wouldn’t focus on the Tea Party as his basis of sup-port,” Hodgkin said Wednesday. “He appealed to much broader elements of the population, and it is too easy for the media and other talking heads to try to pigeonhole him as the Tea Party candidate. I would not do that.”

LePage’s own political consultant agreed that the Republican’s win was not a result of the Tea Party movement.

“The result for LePage was absolutely overwhelming. That’s way, way beyond any one group,” said Brent Littlefield. “It’s proof positive that this is a broad-based, big, huge win.”

Hodgkin said the Tea Party was not a make-or-break element to LePage’s nomination, but “just one element of his coalition of support.”

He said LePage’s win was more a result of his qualifications and his life story.

“It’s a combination of things: His Franco-American background, his rags-to-riches life story, his straightforward style — you see what you get. He’s not a polished graduate of an Ivy League school,” Hodgkin said. “Even though he is well-educated, he’s not your typical image of a Republican.”

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