AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins took a break from her re-election campaign bus tour Saturday to drop by the Blaine House for an annual food drive hosted by Gov. Paul LePage and to lend her support to his re-election campaign.

“With Thanksgiving approaching, we’re all mindful of the people who don’t have enough to eat,” the Republican senator told reporters. “I think it’s wonderful that the governor has made this one of his priorities. … It really speaks to his focus on helping the less fortunate.

“He could be out campaigning, but instead he’s here. I think he deserves our gratitude for that,” she said.

Collins’ endorsement of LePage has long been understood by political observers in the state, despite her lack of appearances with the governor. She spoke kindly of LePage at a unity rally at Husson University after the primary election and again at the Maine GOP State Convention in Bangor last April.

LePage, who with a 45 percent favorability rating was the least popular state official in Maine in a recent BDN/Ipsos poll, would likely have preferred more vocal, vigorous support from Collins. The three-term senator, who’s expected to cruise to victory in her own re-election bid this year, is widely regarded as the state’s most beloved politician in the state. The same poll indicated that 74 percent of Mainers have a favorable view of Collins, the highest of any elected state official.

But Saturday’s brief visit to the Blaine House, just three days before Election Day, was the first time Collins had appeared with the governor during the heat of the gubernatorial race, which sees LePage locked in a tie with his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Eliot Cutler, and independent candidate, released his supporters this week, but said he’d continue campaigning.

Collins on Saturday told reporters that her support for LePage has been unwavering.

“I like his emphasis on jobs and the economy,” she said. “That’s clearly the No. 1 issue in the state, and I am very impressed with his leadership on domestic violence. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for speaking out and establishing a no tolerance rule for domestic violence in our state.”

The governor and his wife, Ann LePage, welcomed Collins to the Blaine House with a big hug, and thanked her for supporting the annual food drive, which benefits the statewide Good Shepherd Food Bank network. Collins brought a collection of Maine-made foods, including Ploye’s mix from Aroostook County and B&M baked beans from Portland.

The trio exchanged pleasantries and posed for photos, but the governor quickly turned his attention to the others who had contributed to the food drive, an annual late-October tradition of LePage’s. He even treated donors to a personal tour of the Blaine House.

The governor seemed to take a special shine to the young children. In one of the Blaine House dining rooms, he pointed to a portrait of the mansion’s namesake, the 19th century Maine statesman James G. Blaine.

“They say this house is haunted [by Blaine], so I come down here every night and say ‘Goodnight Mr. Blaine,’ so he won’t disturb my sleep,” LePage said.

Elsewhere, he pointed out a collections of portraits of governors throughout the state’s history, ending with his own sepia toned headshot.

“We hope there’s no new picture there on Wednesday,” he said with a smile.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and,...