The Maine Democratic Party has been criticizing Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, for his lack of visibility on the campaign trail, but LePage’s camp rebuts their claims that he is in hiding.

LePage was the only Blaine House candidate who didn’t attend the Friday forum hosted by the Island Institute in Rockland.

“Mainers want a governor who has an open conversation with them about the issues facing our state. They don’t want a candidate who ducks debates and hides from questions,” Arden Manning, the Democrats Victory 2010 campaign manager, said in a statement.

LePage also is not scheduled to attend a debate at the University of Maine at Machias this Thursday, or a forum hosted by the Coastal Journal on Aug. 26 in Bath.

He also did not attend the event in Waterville last week honoring former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for his public service, though many officials — plus fellow candidates Libby Mitchell and Eliot Cutler — were on hand.

According to the LePage camp, the Republican has a full schedule of forums beginning in September, and the candidate is looking forward to debates with his opponents.

“There truly is a scheduling conflict,” said John Morris, LePage’s campaign chief of staff. He said invitations to the forums and the Mitchell event came after the campaign had already made other plans.

“Paul LePage has already committed to doing more than 20 debates; the first debate is Sept. 2, the second debate is Sept. 5 and the third debate is Sept. 9,” he said.

The Sept. 2 debate is being hosted by the Maine Forest Products Council in Bangor.

“He’s not afraid to debate the other candidates,” Morris said.

Morris wouldn’t say whether most of the scheduling conflicts were because of fundraising commitments.

“We have a various amount of commitments and, yes, because (Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Libby (Mitchell) is accepting taxpayers’ money and Paul refuses to take taxpayers money during this very difficult economic period we find ourselves in, he must attend some fundraisers,” Morris said.

Mitchell is running a publicly financed campaign in her bid for governor.

According to a recent fundraising pitch e-mailed from the LePage camp, the candidate acknowledges that a shoestring-budget campaign such as the one that won him the primary won’t be enough in November.

“Paul’s campaign had a tremendous impact in the primary election with few financial resources,” the e-mail said. “However, the general election provides a different challenge. An average 30-second commercial costs $2,000. We assure you, in the coming days you will not be able to keep track of the number of daily attack ads that Paul’s campaign will sustain. Therefore, it comes down to you to help Paul with the financial resources he needs to win this fight in November.”

MEA backing Mitchell

The Maine Education Association is endorsing Mitchell for governor.

The group also has posted a list of the State House candidates it is endorsing on their website, www.maine.nea.org.

They have a story on their home screen about their endorsement of Mitchell and, by clicking on that, visitors can access the legislative lists.

Governors head to Portland

The Council of State Governments eastern regional conference is holding its annual meeting in Portland today through Wednesday, according to a news release.

The event, which will focus on innovative jobs, energy and the economy, will take place at Holiday Inn by the Bay and is expected to have more than 500 participants. The opening keynote speaker is Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the University of Southern Maine.

Gov. John Baldacci is joining Maine lawmakers and others, including Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, Deputy Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Kathy Dunderdale and Deputy Premier of Nova Scotia Frank Corbett, according to the release.

Lincoln County fundraiser

Some of Maine’s top Democrats are scheduled to appear at a midday lobster bake in Damariscotta on Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, along with Mitchell and at least six local candidates for the Legislature are expected to attend. Lobster dinners will be $32 each, or one can opt for the more economical hot dog meal for $6. For more information visit www.lincolncountydemocrats.com.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]