PORTLAND, Maine — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters here Wednesday that his group would spare little effort to ensure incumbent Gov. Paul LePage is returned to the Blaine House in 2014.
“I will tell you I’m committed to spending what we need to spend here in order to give the people a full view of Gov. LePage’s record and the record of his opponents,” Christie said after joining LePage in chatting with customers at Becky’s Diner.
Christie said Maine’s race was one of the governors association’s top five nationwide: “A top-five race is a race where you’re going to spend time and financial resources,” he said.
Christie was in Portland to join LePage at a pair of fundraisers for the state Republican Party and for LePage’s re-election campaign. He said he and LePage — who once told a reporter he would be “the Chris Christie of Maine” — have become friends since the Maine governor was elected in a tight three-way race in 2010.
LePage once again is engaged in a three-way contest for governor. This time, his opponents are Democrat and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Cape Elizabeth businessman Eliot Cutler.
Campaign observers are keen to keep track of the Republican Governors Association’s involvement in Maine this year. In 2010, the association spent more than $1.8 million electing LePage in 2010 — more than three times what the Democratic Governors Association spent supporting his Democratic opponent that year, Libby Mitchell.
This time around, both groups have both pledged active roles in the campaign. When asked whether Maine could expect a moneyed arms race between the governors associations, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Christie’s counterpart at the Democratic Governors Association, said group would “partner with [Michaud] in any way we can.”
At Becky’s Diner, Christie and LePage greeted customers and took a detour into the kitchen.
“If you ever need me, I used to be a dishwasher,” LePage told one of the cooks.
Speaking with reporters, Christie trumpeted LePage’s achievements in office, including the largest tax cut in Maine history, efforts to reform Maine’s welfare system, and oversight of a state that has seen thousands of jobs added in the last three years. He said he and LePage had a lot in common.
“I’m a Republican governor in a blue state, as Gov. LePage is,” Christie said. “The fact is, we’re not supposed to ever win in places like this. And the fact that he’s won once — and in the race now, even the polls months out show him ahead — tells you that the people of Maine know who he is, that they trust him, and they like him.”
Democrats on Wednesday agreed LePage and Christie were cut from the same cloth.
“They both claim to be straight talkers who tell it how they see it, but as we’ve all learned the hard way, they’re masters of the absurd tirade, which have embarrassed the people of their states,” Shumlin said during a conference call with reporters.
Shumlin and the Democratic Governors Association highlighted LePage’s record of inflammatory comments and notable controversies, which have drawn national headlines and condemnation from his opponents – including when he called the IRS the “new Gestapo” and told the NAACP they could “kiss my butt,” as well as a document-shredding scandal at the state Center for Disease Control.
Christie is widely considered a potential Republican nominee for president in 2016, but he’s also no stranger to criticism. His opponents often label him a bully.
He recently has been thrust even further into the spotlight for a fiasco known as “Bridgegate,” when members of his staff ordered the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge, causing massive traffic jams for five days. The plot was apparently retribution against a nearby mayor who didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election bid in 2013. Christie has denied any involvement in the lane closures. On Wednesday, Christie’s top political strategist, Michael DuHaime, was subpoenaed by a legislative committee investigating the incident, according to media reports.
Despite the controversies and criticism from political opponents, Christie said neither he nor LePage need to soften their image.
People are used to politicians who are “blow-dried and focus-group tested,” Christie said. “They all sound the same. The one thing they can’t say about LePage and I is that we sound like everyone else. We don’t, because we tell the truth, we say what we think, we’re very direct. … People are allowed to have their opinions, but they’re not going to silence me and they’re certainly not going to silence Gov. LePage.”
LePage said Bridgegate has not diminished his admiration for Christie.
“It’s always crucial and very important to have the support of your colleagues,” LePage said. “Chris Christie is a leader in the Republican ranks, not only in the RGA but in the Republican Party as a whole. I’m always honored to have him here. It’s a humbling experience to be able to work with Chris.”
In a written statement to the BDN, Cutler dismissed Christie’s appearance in Portland.
“Chris Christie is coming to Maine because he wants to be president,” Cutler said. “Who cares? Instead of trotting around with the partisan show pony of the day, the governor and Mike Michaud should start talking about the issues that voters in Maine care about.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.