AUGUSTA, Maine — As a University of Maine junior, Brent Littlefield decided his campaign for student government president needed an eleventh-hour push, so he turned to the newly installed campus phone system, which his campaign programmed to make automated calls to 8,000 students.
“It was the first-ever use of robocalls on campus during a campaign,” said Littlefield, who won the 1992 election and went on to became a political consultant based outside Washington.
Paul LePage, who takes the oath of office as Maine’s governor on Wednesday, owes a good deal of credit to Littlefield’s behind-the-scenes work for winning a seven-way primary despite being heavily outspent, and ultimately for winning a five-way race to become Maine’s first Republican governor in 16 years.
As LePage’s senior political adviser, Littlefield was put in charge of inaugural activities, including the formal ceremony at 11:30 a.m. and invitation-only reception at the Augusta Civic Center. About 5,000 people are expected to attend.
Littlefield said he was encouraged to assist LePage by several GOP supporters who described him as the “real deal.” He agreed to help after meeting LePage at the Senator Inn & Spa.
A Mainer who spent much of his childhood in tiny Winn in Penobscot County, Littlefield grew up around paper mills — where his father worked — and learned to love the outdoors. He watched families struggle as good-paying jobs disappeared, so he and LePage saw eye-to-eye on the need for jobs.
“Maine can be better. There can be more jobs in Maine,” said the 40-year-old Littlefield. “He comes at it from a business angle, but he gets the politics. And he’s very, very driven. And he didn’t seem afraid of the challenges, or the need for serious changes. Frankly I found that quite refreshing.”
Littlefield persuaded LePage to talk about his life story of overcoming adversity. The son of an abusive father, LePage left home at age 11 but managed to go to college and serve as mayor in Waterville. Employment at Marden’s Surplus and Salvage grew from a couple hundred to more than 1,000 while he was general manager.
John Morris, LePage’s campaign chief of staff, credits Littlefield for sharpening the campaign’s focus and coming up with his “three onlys” theme before the June primary.
“Paul was the only candidate who had a compelling life story. Paul was the only candidate who had a successful experience as a chief executive officer of a government entity. And Paul was the only candidate who was the executive of a prosperous Maine business,” Morris said.
Because LePage was heavily outspent, Littlefield saved money by targeting 35,000 Republican homes with signs that had LePage’s name on one side and a letter from LePage on the other. For the general election, those signs went to 80,000 independent voters and “soft Democrats,” Morris said.
Littlefield also pulled a page out of his college playbook. He created a database of people who speak French or grew up in households where French was spoken. Those homes were targeted by phone calls from LePage, who became the first Franco-American to be elected governor in Maine.
“As far as I was concerned, he was a very important cog in the wheel that won this election. And he is a brilliant strategist,” said Morris, who has been appointed public safety commissioner.
Former Democratic state Sen. Ethan Strimling of Portland respects Littlefield’s talents.
Back in 1991, Strimling was running for student government president on one slate, and Littlefield was running for vice president on another. Littlefield did a better job of getting out the vote, and his ticket won, Strimling said.
“It was a very spirited race,” he said. “It was the highest turnout the school had ever seen.”
The next year, Littlefield manipulated the campus telephone system when he ran again, this time for president. Strimling chuckled at the lengths to which Littlefield went to win. Littlefield acknowledges buying pizzas for his campaign workers as they typed telephone numbers into the system.
“I can appreciate a good campaign tactic. If you’re keeping it legal, and being creative, I give you kudos,” said Strimling, who’s executive director of LearningWorks, formerly Portland West.
Associated Press writer Glenn Adams contributed to this report.