SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has been the target of a concerted campaign by leading reproductive rights advocacy groups, appeared in Scarborough on Friday with several dozen women supporters who said he’s the candidate who represents their interests.
During his speech, LePage made complimentary references to the women in his life — his mother, his wife, Ann, and others — but the subject of specific women’s issues largely was left out of his comments. He focused on the themes of his campaign: Turning around the economy and helping Mainers succeed.
For Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, though, those are the issues that matter to women.
During her introduction of the governor, Sirocki also commended LePage for his dedication to ending domestic violence.
“Women are often the target of abuse,” she said. “Gov. LePage’s focus on this issue can help women find their voice.”
LePage’s Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, has been endorsed by groups such as Planned Parenthood and has benefited from financial and volunteer support those organizations offer. Earlier in his political career, Michaud accepted donations from national anti-abortion groups, but his position on reproductive rights has changed to the point where he earns high marks from groups like Planned Parenthood for his pro-choice stance.
Independent candidate Eliot Cutler also is pro-choice. LePage is anti-abortion.
Planned Parenthood’s political wing recently launched a TV ad campaign in southern Maine criticizing LePage for vetoing a bill that would have given low-income women access to birth control and preventive care such as breast cancer screenings and for cutting $400,000 in grants for the Family Planning Association of Maine from his first budget.
LePage said Friday that he did not recall vetoing that bill. Earlier this week, he criticized the Planned Parenthood ad, telling a TV reporter that Planned Parenthood needed to “do the right thing.”
After his prepared remarks, LePage was asked by a reporter to clarify that comment.
“We have more people in Maine dying than being born,” he answered. “If we’re going to sustain the Maine society, we need more people. We need younger people.”
When asked whether that meant he opposed the use of contraception, which Planned Parenthood provides to its patients, LePage replied: “What I’m against is killing babies as a form of contraception. That’s what I’m against.”
Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood in Maine, said LePage did not seem to know the facts about the group’s health clinics, and that 95 percent of the care offered there is not abortions, but services such as annual health exams, sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment, birth control and cancer screenings.
She also said she was not surprised that LePage claimed he did not recall vetoing LD 1247, the bill to expand women’s health services to roughly 13,000 low-income women.
“It’s not surprising. What we’ve seen nationally is that candidates with bad records or hostile positions toward women’s health tend to hide from that issue, because they know it’s going to hurt their ability to get re-elected,” she said.
Though LePage is anti-abortion and is sparring with Planned Parenthood, he has supported legislation to ensure domestic violence victims are notified when their attacker is released from jail, and introduced and passed a bill to prevent judges from waiving minimum penalties for domestic abusers. He also supported a measure by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, to combat human trafficking.
Groups such as Planned Parenthood are betting on women being a decisive voting bloc in Maine’s gubernatorial election this year. A study commissioned in August by Planned Parenthood and other women’s groups indicated that “messaging on women’s health and economic security for women and families will be key to turning out Democratic drop-off voters this fall.” (“Drop-off voters” are those who cast ballots in presidential election years and stay home during midterm elections.)
The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, found that drop-off voters could be mobilized by the chance to vote against anti-abortion politicians, with 70 percent of respondents saying that prospect would be “very motivating” in getting them to the polls.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.