PORTLAND, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage is “the most erratic, divisive governor in America right now,” according to Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Shumlin criticized LePage just hours before Maine’s governor was due to host New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, for a pair of fundraisers. Shumlin said that because of his penchant for national headline-grabbing gaffes and “absurd tirades,” LePage wouldn’t stand a chance in a two-way race with Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
“If this were not a three-way race, the RGA wouldn’t be anywhere near this race and Chris Christie wouldn’t be in Maine right now,” Shumlin said during a conference call with reporters. We all know Congressman Mike Michaud has such an extraordinary track record fighting for the middle class. There wouldn’t be much of a race.”
As in 2010 — when LePage won with a slim plurality of votes — the two party candidates are joined by independent Cape Elizabeth businessman Eliot Cutler. Two other independent candidates also appeared on the 2010 ballot. Shumlin’s comments alluded to fears in some Democratic circles that LePage could once again squeak into victory if the race is close in all three directions.
In a written response to the BDN, Cutler dismissed Christie’s appearance in Maine and the DGA’s response.
“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.”
Campaign observers are keen to keep track of the DGA and RGA’s involvement in Maine this year. Both have pledged active roles in the campaigns, but Shumlin was coy when asked whether his group would be willing to pour huge amounts of cash into the Pine Tree State to see Michaud elected.
It’s a lingering question, after the RGA spent more than $1.8 million electing LePage in 2010 — more than three times what the DGA spent supporting his Democratic opponent that year, Libby Mitchell.
When asked whether Maine could expect a moneyed arms race between the governors associations, Shumlin said only that the DGA would “partner with [Michaud] in any way we can to make that happen.”
Christie is attempting to recover his national brand in the wake of a scandal involving members of his staff creating a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, reportedly out of political spite against a New Jersey mayor who did not endorse Christie.
Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, joined Shumlin on the call, and the pair wasted little time in casting the two governors as kindred spirits. Christie is as known for the tough-guy approach he takes with opponents as LePage is for his laundry list of controversial comments.
“From my perspective, it makes perfect sense [for Christie and LePage to appear together],” Shumlin said. “They have a lot in common. 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.”
The call offered a window into what will likely be a key campaign theme by Democrats heading into the 2014 gubernatorial election. Shumlin and Alfond took turns trotting out examples from LePage’s comments and actions that had drawn national headlines and condemnation from his opponents — from calling the IRS the “new Gestapo” and telling the NAACP they could “kiss my butt” to a document-shredding scandal at the state Center for Disease Control.
Alfond also criticized the governor for his unwillingness to work with the Democrat-controlled Legislature. LePage this year sat out budget negotiations entirely, an unprecedented move for a governor, and for a few months refused to allow his department heads to speak with lawmakers at committee hearings.
When asked to respond to the attacks by Shumlin and Alfond, LePage’s campaign strategist, Brent Littlefield, said it was the continuation of what he called a “pattern we’re seeing by Michael Michaud and his attack dogs.”
“They can’t win on the issues, so they attack, with out-of-state Washington money,” he said. “It’s very clear the Maine people support a governor who has created the lowest unemployment rate since 2008, the creation of nearly 18,000 jobs, the payoff of the hospital welfare debt and the reform of welfare.”
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Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.