FALMOUTH, Maine — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said if Republican Gov. Paul LePage — one of the congressman’s chief rivals in the 2014 gubernatorial race — told GOP donors recently that current Democratic President Barack Obama “hates white people,” it’s “unfortunate.”
But the Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District was careful to say he didn’t know whether LePage made the comment, as alleged by multiple Republican sources who attended a now-controversial Belgrade fundraiser with the governor earlier this month. Michaud announced his candidacy for governor last week after months of speculation he would enter the race.
Michaud made his first comments about the subject late Wednesday morning during a news conference in Falmouth, where fellow Democrat Steve Woods announced he would be dropping out of the gubernatorial race and endorsing Michaud.
“What I read was in the media. Whether or not the governor said those remarks … I don’t want to say he did or he didn’t, because I was not at the event,” Michaud said when asked by the Bangor Daily News if he had a response to the governor’s alleged statement. “If the governor did make those comments I think it’s very unfortunate that he did. It put Maine back in the headlines again in a negative light. But whether he did or not, I don’t know.”
Earlier during the news conference, Michaud suggested LePage’s often abrasive delivery style — the governor has famously called state employees “corrupt” and legislators “idiots” — could drive residents and investors away from the state.
“It’s very detrimental for businesses that are looking at the state of Maine if we have a governor criticizing the state of Maine and its people,” Michaud said. “If I’m a CEO and I’m going to spend millions of dollars, I’m not going to move that money to a state where the governor is critical of his own state.”
Woods said Wednesday he doesn’t “even want to comment on the latest episode, because the list is just too long.”
“The public is getting desensitized, and now my fear is that people will say, ‘Oh, it’s just politics,’” he said. “I do business in all 50 states. I’ve traveled to all 50 states. People are talking about Maine, and in many cases, they’re not talking about what a great state we have.”
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 that Woods would abandon his gubernatorial aspirations and endorse Michaud.
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 Michaud to focus on his chief general election rivals, LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, who finished a close second to LePage in 2010.
The governor’s administration has refused to talk to the Bangor Daily News about the alleged comment about Obama hating white people. A video posted Tuesday by WCSH, the Portland NBC affiliate, showed LePage leaving his office and telling reporters that he did not make the alleged comments.
“I never said that, and you guys are all about gossip,” LePage said in the video.
Someone who attended the event told the BDN on Monday that the governor made the comment during remarks critical of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s health care reform law, at a party fundraiser in Belgrade on Aug. 12.
“It was a typical, off the cuff, off the script, Paul LePage comment,” one attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous because of fear of political reprisals, told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
The GOP fundraiser also was meant to serve as a welcome party for Rick Bennett, newly elected chairman of the Maine Republican Party.
Bennett has confirmed the governor spoke about the president and about race.
“[LePage] said President Obama had an opportunity to unify the country on race, but didn’t do anything,” Bennett said Monday. When asked whether the governor remarked about the president hating white people, Bennett said, “I didn’t hear that.”
Several other fundraiser attendees said on the record that they did not hear LePage make the comment.
It would not be the first time the governor had made controversial comments, and not the first time those remarks involved Obama. During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, LePage told a group of fishermen that if he were elected, “You’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’”
In 2011, shortly after LePage’s inauguration, he told the NAACP and other critics to “kiss my butt” after the group criticized the governor for not attending a ceremony commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.
Also listed on the Maine Ethics Commission’s website as potential 2014 gubernatorial candidates are former Maliseet state Rep. David Slagger, a Green Independent Party candidate, as well as independents Adam Eldridge of Brewer and Lee Schultheis of Freeport.
BDN staff reporter Mario Moretto contributed to this story.