BANGOR, Maine — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage tried out a new conciliatory tone during a speech Tuesday to the Bangor Noontime Rotary, but he stopped short of apologizing for his recent verbal public missteps.
“There’s been a lot of distractions the past few weeks, and quite frankly, I take a lot of the blame for that, and I’m responsible for most of it,” he said, referring to an instance in which he told a group of fisherman that if he were elected, there would be many headlines reading, “Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell,” and another instance in which he jokingly said he would like to punch a reporter in the face.
LePage admitted his verbal gaffes have hurt his public image, but he didn’t appear to regret the comments.
“I would rather put my foot in my mouth than have Libby Mitchell with her hands in your pockets,” he said to the applause of about 100 Rotarians and guests.
LePage is the fourth of five candidates to speak to the Bangor Rotary so far this campaign season. Independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott already have made appearances. Mitchell, the Democratic candidate and LePage’s closest opponent in the polls, will visit the service group on Oct. 19.
Sticking mostly to a modified stump speech, LePage primarily talked about Mitchell and why she represents the status quo.
“Libby says Augusta didn’t create the recession, and I agree with her 100 percent,” he said. “She says Augusta is doing everything they can to get us out of a recession, and that’s where we have a major disagreement. A vote for me is a vote to reverse direction.”
The Republican stuck to traditional talking points such as shrinking state government, promoting the private sector and deregulation.
“The state has got to look at itself and say, ‘Are we regulating too much? Are we controlling too much?’ I think they are,” he said, adding later, “I don’t intend to chase every businessman around the state of Maine seeing if they’re doing everything right or wrong. When you are fair, equitable and understand each position, I think the businesspeople are going to police themselves accordingly.”
Speaking earlier Tuesday in Bangor during his “People Before Politics” tour, LePage said that while he doesn’t necessarily believe there are two Maines, he does see enormous inequity throughout the state.
“If you look at the economy of the state of Maine, Cumberland and York seem to be prosperous counties, and the other 14 seem to be struggling,” LePage said before a walking tour of small businesses in downtown Bangor.
He touched on some of the challenges and opportunities facing Greater Bangor.
“The Bangor area is the educational mecca and the medical mecca. These are the anchors of the other Maine, you might say,” the candidate said. “This is the major metropolis for northern Maine, and I think it’s doing very well. But we need to bring back our forestry, our fishing and our farming. And if we do that, we would sur-round Bangor, and Bangor would prosper even more.”
Asked about a new Bangor arena and what impact it could have on economic development, LePage had this to say: “It would be nice to have a new building for the basketball tournament. That’s the only time I go to the arena.”
Back at the Rotary meeting, LePage again referenced his oft-criticized sharp tongue and tried to offer further justification for his most recent comments about President Barack Obama.
“I got an e-mail [recently] that said, ‘He who dare not offend cannot speak the truth.’ Let me tell you what’s important about that quote,” LePage said. “Our society and the press does not, does not want to hear the truth. What they want is political correctness. And I don’t blame them, because what I said the other day was pretty off the mark, and I deserved to get kicked in the butt for it.
“And it did hurt us a little bit in the polls, but it didn’t hurt us anywhere near what you’ve heard. … But I appreciate the press for attacking me, because I do need to get a little bit smarter.”
Paul Trommer, a longtime LePage supporter and campaign volunteer from Bangor, said he doesn’t mind the candidate’s public approach.
“He tells you what he’s thinking. You may not agree, but you’ll get an answer,” Trommer said.