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GORHAM, Maine — Former Gov. Paul LePage said he’s “always supported” Sen. Susan Collins, and is confident that she will run and win again in 2020 in the face of an aggressive Democratic effort to unseat her.
“I absolutely endorse Sen. Collins. I never had a problem with her,” LePage said. “We have some issues. We may have policy issues once in a while, but I’ve always supported her.”
It’s different than what the Republican has said about Collins in the past, starting after her 2016 announcement she would not be voting for President Donald Trump, a move that he said “cooked her goose” among Republicans. Then, in 2017, he said he didn’t know Collins well enough to endorse her for governor, even though he had campaigned for her in the past.
Later that year, Collins voted against fellow Republicans’ bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act and was considering running to succeed the term-limited LePage, who left office this year. In July 2017, he told supporters at a Republican event in Canaan to urge Collins not to run.
But the former governor downplayed that tension when asked about it Thursday during an economic roundtable hosted by Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. He said his sentiment was that she was needed “in Washington, not in Maine.”
“The way I see it — like when people tell me to run against [independent U.S.] Sen. Angus King — I tell them I wouldn’t be a good legislator, I’m more of a CEO type,” he continued. “She [Collins] has done such a marvelous job as a legislator … she’s been trained a certain way.”
The former governor also doubled down on previous statements that he would run against Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, in 2022. He said to expect a formal, public announcement on his decision after the November 2020 election.
In the meantime, LePage said he will be supporting Trump while he lives in Florida for the winter. He praised the president’s tax cuts and job-creation efforts, saying he only disagreed with Trump’s trade war with China, which he said hurts Maine’s lobster industry.
Collins has yet to announce whether she will run yet, but she is running like she will. The four-term senator raised $6.5 million as of June’s end, which is more than she has ever raised during any past campaign except for one as national Democrats target her seat. Her race is projected to generate $55 million in advertising alone.
Five Democrats are running against her. The field is led by House Speaker Sara Gideon and lobbyist Betsy Sweet with three lesser-known candidates — lawyer Bre Kidman, Jonathan Tracey, a retired Air Force major general, and travel agent Michael Bunker also running.
LePage’s praise of Collins could be a blow to conservative activist Derek Levasseur, who is running a longshot primary challenge from Collins’ right and raised only $6,900 by June’s end. A 2017 poll showed LePage had a 79 percent approval rating among Maine Republicans.