Christie brings promise of campaign cash to 2nd Maine visit with LePage

Posted Aug. 12, 2014, at 7:59 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 13, 2014, at 3:23 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once again touched down in Maine on Tuesday to offer his support — and considerable fundraising prowess — to Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign.

Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was making his second stop in the Pine Tree State, after an appearance at Becky’s Diner in Portland and a LePage fundraiser in May.

This time, he and LePage toured a recently expanded airplane maintenance and repair operation in Bangor, where Christie touted LePage’s efforts to make Maine more business-friendly, and pledged “millions of dollars” to see him returned to the Blaine House in 2014.

LePage is in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler is also running, but lags in the polls.

While Christie and LePage’s public appearance took place at C&L Aviation Group, an airplane maintenance and repair firm in Bangor, the real action was set to happen 14 miles away at the Lucerne Inn in Dedham.

There, Christie would help the LePage campaign and the Maine Republican Party open up donors’ wallets in eastern Maine the same way he had done at fundraisers held in Portland three months earlier. In May, Christie’s appearance in Portland was responsible for raking in a “low six-figure” total for LePage’s re-election, according to two party insiders who say they expect the RGA chairman to draw a similar sum of cash this time around.

The contributions come not only in the form of admission to the reception in Dedham — tickets range from $100 and $1,500 — but from donors motivated by Christie’s entreaties to do what they can to help LePage and other state Republicans win in November.

Protesters from Maine People’s Alliance, the state’s leading progressive group, were expected to greet LePage and Christie at the Lucerne Inn.

Christie’s skill for attracting money is well known. His Republican Governors Association touted a record-breaking a fundraising effort in the second quarter of 2014 with a reported $26.6 million received in April, May and June. That’s the group’s biggest-ever quarterly fundraising effort.

Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at the University of Maine, said Tuesday that “Christie is about as big as it gets right now for a Republican fundraiser. He’s certainly an A-lister.”

The New Jersey governor has traversed the country stumping for Republican incumbents and challengers. On Wednesday, he was scheduled to attend events in Alabama and Mississippi.

And while his presence in Maine represented the RGA’s effort to help LePage and the Maine Republican Party rake in donations, Christie also pledged to spend “millions of dollars” from RGA coffers to help LePage get elected again. The RGA already has poured $550,000 into Maine, according to its most recently filed campaign finance report. In 2010, the group spent more than $1.8 million to elect LePage.

And on Tuesday, the group unveiled its first television ad in Maine, highlighting the governor’s efforts on domestic violence and fiscal conservatism. The ad is the first part of what could eventually amount to a more than $3 million Web and TV advertising campaign through Election Day, according to a source with knowledge of the RGA’s plans in Maine.

“We’re going to spend what we think we need to spend in order to win,” Christie told reporters in Bangor. “I don’t want to pay a dollar more than I have to for a win, but I’ll pay every dollar I need.”

C&L Aviation Group, opened in Bangor in 2010 and has been growing ever since. It recently unveiled its $5 million expansion, which is expected to bring 40 to 50 more jobs, bringing the company total to roughly 170.

The tour was led by Chris Kilgour, the company’s CEO, who said the LePage administration’s willingness to work with his company allowed him to expand. C&L was enrolled in the Pine Tree Economic Development Zone program, and a sales tax exemption for aircraft parts supported by LePage and approved by lawmakers helped the company thrive.

“They tried to make it easy for us,” Kilgour said of LePage and his staff. “We didn’t have to expand here.”

Christie’s appearance with LePage brought with it a bigger spotlight, evidenced by the swarm of reporters and photographers who followed the duo as they weaved through C&L’s hangars and airfield. The governors used the attention to focus on their shared message of economic growth, a linchpin of LePage’s campaign, and Christie’s efforts to see GOP governors like him elected throughout the country.

“We’re taking a tour of the kind of things that have happened under Gov. LePage’s leadership,” Christie said. “You have businesses here expanding and growing. This business has quadrupled now in the last four years, in terms of the number of employees here. That kind of growth doesn’t happen without leadership at the top from the state, showing the right kind of business atmosphere.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are brushing aside claims of economic prosperity from Christie and LePage, saying the governors — both known for their bluster and string of controversial statements — are “too extreme.”

“From his attacks on Maine’s most vulnerable citizens to his refusal to expand Medicaid to his incendiary comparison of the IRS to the Gestapo … Paul LePage is clearly the most extreme governor in America,” wrote the Democratic National Committee in a news release.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.