Waterville Mayor Paul LePage’s black Toyota Avalon came rumbling through the dust on the warehouse road, slowed to a crawl and then stopped.
LePage stepped out, smiling and looking refreshed, despite having had no sleep at all Tuesday night after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary.
It was Wednesday afternoon and he had just come out of a meeting at Marden’s Surplus & Salvage warehouse in Winslow, where he met with 30 managers to discuss, among other things, what happens next.
“I’ll be taking a leave (of absence from Marden’s); we just have to work out the details so everything is covered,” he said.
According to unofficial results, LePage won 37 percent of the Republican vote over six other candidates. Les Otten placed second, with 17.4 percent. LePage now faces state Senate President Libby Mitchell, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday, and three independent candidates.
LePage, 61, was confident that he will be Maine’s next governor.
“The people opposing me may have political experience, but they don’t have what I can bring, and that is fiscal responsibility,” he said.
LePage, mayor of Waterville since 2003 and a two-term city councilor before that, touted his record during the campaign of being the only Republican candidate who has led a Maine government.
He reorganized city hall, lowered taxes, increased the city’s fund balance from $1 million to $10 million — and did it all as a Republican mayor presiding over a largely Democratic city and city council.
LePage said he was overwhelmed by the support he received.
“I went into Eric’s Restaurant on College Avenue (in Waterville) this morning to do radio and television interviews and everybody stood up and applauded,” he said. “At Tim Horton’s, I got a standing ovation. I went in to get a coffee and it took 45 minutes.”
So, how did a relatively unknown go from being homeless at age 11 to being in the running for the governor’s office? Supporters say it’s a combination of things.
“I think he was the right man with the right message at the right time,” his wife, Ann, said Wednesday. “I honestly believe the people embraced him and they just took it and ran with it. They just believed in him.”
Mainers, she said, are excited about her husband’s fresh approach and proven record.
“Paul is a straight shooter,” she said. “He’s going to tell you like it is. He won’t run from a question and he will answer it as honestly as he can. You might not like the answer, but you’re going to respect him.”
Volunteers also played a big role, according to both LePage and his chief of staff, John Morris, a West Gardiner resident and former Waterville police chief.
“It’s because of their hard work that Paul is on the road to the Blaine House,” Morris said. “We spent less than $200,000 on this campaign. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers working 20 and 30 hours a week. How do you put a dollar value on those enthusiastic people?”
The campaign effort really started back in November when Scott Van Orman of Sidney, a longtime friend of LePage, Morris and a small group of close-knit supporters met weekly in LePage’s Waterville kitchen to begin organizing, Van Orman said.
“We didn’t even have an office,” he said. “It was literally a kitchen cabinet. At the first meeting, we said none of us had ever run a campaign before except John McGough (of Brunswick), who had worked on a presidential campaign. We all said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I thought we could do it. I knew we could.”
He said they quickly determined LePage had a huge grassroots following, so they built on that volunteer base.
LePage agreed with Van Orman.
“We may have been inexperienced and amateurish,” he said. “They may be people without experience, but they’re highly intelligent people. People have just been so unbelievably energized and they all did it from nothing. They did it from a vision.”
LePage on Wednesday said that, despite naysayers who said he’d never win, he knew otherwise.
“I just didn’t realize we were going to win with the numbers we did,” he said. “That was a shocker.”
He said that as governor, he’ll put his skills to work. “I am a frugal person — always have been. I’m frugal in the company, I’m frugal in the city. It’s very simple. If you want fiscal responsibility in Augusta, then you need to elect me.”