FALMOUTH, Maine — Saying U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud deserves to be considered among Maine political icons such as Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe, Falmouth businessman Steve Woods dropped out of the 2014 Maine gubernatorial race Wednesday and endorsed the 2nd District Democrat.
Michaud, now the only declared Democrat still in the race, joined Woods, president and CEO of diversified marketing firm TideSmart Global, at the company’s Falmouth headquarters Wednesday for the announcement.
Woods, who is also chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and ran for U.S. Senate as an independent last year, presented Michaud with his only notable primary threat. His departure from the race will likely allow the Michaud to focus on his chief general election rivals, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, who finished a close second to LePage in 2010.
Woods said Michaud’s leadership in the Blaine House is necessary to reverse trends of job losses and negative publicity he said have been prevalent under LePage.
“When elected, I believe Mike will restore honor and integrity to the Blaine House, while at the same time showing respect to 1.3 million Mainers, not just those who voted for him,” Woods said.
LePage has attracted headlines with his sometimes controversial remarks — such as his now-famous comparison of the Internal Revenue Service with the Nazi Gestapo and his suggestion that a rival Democratic state lawmaker is “the first one to give it to the people without even providing Vaseline” — but retains loyal support among many conservatives for his hard stances against tax increases and what he has described as cumbersome business regulations.
On Wednesday, Michaud, a member of the Democrats’ fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, and his supporters tried to wrest the “pro-business” title from LePage while also deriding the current governor’s often abrasive approach.
“I believe Mike Michaud is pro-jobs and pro-business,” Woods said.
“Maine is one of three states that actually lost jobs last year,” Michaud said, apparently referring to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released last month. “I want to turn that around, but also have Maine be a place where businesses locate here and are proud to locate here — [to be] a governor that will put a positive light on Maine and move forward.”
While the Pew report did find that Maine lost about 1,500 private-sector jobs between April 2012 and April 2013, the Maine Department of Labor has reported that in LePage’s first two and a half years on the job, the number of employed workers in the state grew by about 13,750 and the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest levels since November 2008.
“Michael Michaud is the last person who should be lecturing on business or job growth,” said LePage campaign adviser Brent Littlefield in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that Michael Michaud has voted against job creators a full 61 percent of the time since he has been in Congress. While Paul LePage was creating thousands of jobs for Maine people in private business, Michael Michaud was spending his time collecting a politician’s paycheck.”
Michaud, LePage and Cutler could be joined in the 2014 gubernatorial race by former Maliseet state Rep. David Slagger, and independents Adam Eldridge of Brewer and Lee Schultheis of Freeport. Slagger is seeking the Green independent party nomination.
Cutler has derided Michaud and LePage as partisan operators who have contributed to gridlock in Congress and the State House, respectively, while LePage representatives have blasted Michaud as an extreme liberal who votes in lockstep with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
“While Paul LePage is fixing a hospital welfare debt that existed for years, Michael Michaud is advocating more welfare spending that will send Maine back to the growing welfare of the [Gov. John] Baldacci years,” said Littlefield in a statement responding to Michaud’s candidacy announcement last week.
“If Paul LePage and Mike Michaud are their parties’ nominees, voters will have a clear choice among three different directions for Maine’s future,” said Cutler in a prepared statement at the same time. “We can remain hopelessly stuck, we can go backwards, or we can move forward together to make Maine healthier, smarter, stronger, younger and more prosperous.”
Woods on Wednesday lauded Maine’s tradition of sending strong politicians to Washington, D.C., and said Michaud belongs in that conversation.
“Imagine a group photograph with those honorable Maine leaders — Margaret Chase Smith, John Baldacci, Bill Cohen, Angus King, Olympia Snowe. Three Republicans, one Democrat, one independent, but all honorable and respected, with universal support,” Woods said. “For his 33 years of public service to date, I believe Mike Michaud deserves to be in that photo. Our incumbent governor does not.”