AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday, saying his bombastic style matches that of the billionaire businessman.
“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we’re one of the same cloth,” he told conservative radio host Howie Carr.
LePage’s endorsement came the same day New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Trump. LePage backed Christie until he dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month, and the Maine governor said he hasn’t talked to Trump but discussed the endorsement with Christie.
The decision quickly gained national attention on Friday: Vox’s headline was “America’s Trumpiest governor just endorsed Donald Trump.”
Trump has run on anti-immigrant rhetoric, calling for a ban on Muslim travel to the U.S., and LePage gained national headlines in January when he made racially charged remarks about drug dealers. This month, he said asylum seekers bring “the ziki fly” — a malaprop reference to the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus — and other diseases to the country.
“I think that the governor has a habit of making outrageous and racist comments just like Donald Trump, so it’s a good matchup,” said Maine House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.
But eight days before the Maine Republican Party caucuses, that may not matter in Maine’s Republican base, where LePage is a popular figure and the presidential race is highly unsettled. LePage has a potent political machine that could sway undecided Republican voters toward Trump.
Carr has asked LePage about Trump before: In January, LePage said that while Trump is “pushing in the right direction,” on issues including immigration, he doesn’t see how his ideas wouldn’t drive up the national debt, and earlier this month, Maine’s governor said he was “not a big fan” of Trump.
Before LePage, Trump’s best-known Maine backer was Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who left the race after crushing defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has not endorsed any presidential candidate.
Cruz got endorsements from several Maine legislators earlier this month. On Friday, Rubio announced the backing of former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, Rep. Robert Nutting of Oakland, Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, former Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster and former House minority leader and lobbyist Josh Tardy.
LePage told Carr that he hoped Trump would visit Maine before the Republican caucuses on March 5. In advance of Maine’s Republican and Democratic caucuses on March 6, campaigns are sending surrogates to the state to stump for their candidates.
Donald Trump Jr. is expected to visit Maine to campaign for his father next week, and Olympic figure skating medalist Michelle Kwan will make campaign appearances Tuesday in Bangor, Augusta and Portland on behalf of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
There has been little polling in the Maine race, but Trump was leading in a poll here conducted in September. Lance Dutson, a Republican strategist who formed Get Right Maine, a moderate group that has opposed LePage, said Trump was likely to do well in Maine regardless of LePage’s support because of the “angry base” both have cultivated.
He said he often sees Republicans complaining of Trump’s rise, but he wonders “where they were while LePage was making a mockery of the Maine political system for five years,” because it’s a similar phenomenon.
“It’s definitely a sad state of affairs both in Maine and nationally in the Republican Party,” Dutson said, “but I don’t see a whole lot of profiles in courage from the Republican rank and file to stand up against it.”