Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage got a laugh and a round of applause Sunday when he told a group of lobstermen at a GOP forum in Hancock County that he would tell President Obama to “go to hell.”

But a video clip of his comments is gathering views on the Internet since Democrats posted it on YouTube on Tuesday. National websites such as the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post have posted links to the clip. LePage’s remarks also have been reported nationally by The Associated Press.

Speaking in the small coastal town of Brooksville, LePage was responding to a question when he made the remark.

“As your governor, you’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell,’ ” he said, to applause.

LePage’s remark was videotaped by a Democratic Party aide and posted on the party’s website, Dirigoblue.com. It followed a discussion by lobstermen about economic problems in the lobster fishery, which is managed by the state.

LePage declined to speak to The Portland Press Herald on Wednesday to clarify or explain his statement.

He told The Associated Press that he regretted the words he chose Sunday but wasn’t backing down from his criticism of the administration for what he described as free-spending, antibusiness policies.

LePage, who is mayor of Waterville but new to statewide politics, declined to offer an outright apology. He also continued to take aim at the Obama administration, saying federal spending is driving up the national debt and “taking us to a place where my children and my grandchildren will never come back.”

“Am I politically correct all the time? No. Maybe it’s time to have people say bluntly what’s going on,” LePage told the AP. “The fact of the matter is that I haven’t learned how to speak out of both sides of my mouth yet.”

His supporters say LePage’s remarks represent a popular sentiment among conservatives, that federal regulators are overzealous and that state programs that receive federal funding, such as MaineCare, threaten the fiscal health of the state and the federal governments.

Democrats, however, say LePage’s statement was disrespectful to the office of the president. They say LePage, as governor, would have such a combative relationship with federal officials that it would be difficult for him gain their cooperation to address problems, such as getting federal money to fix roads and bridges.

While state officials and Maine’s congressional delegation sometimes stand up to federal bureaucrats for businesses and residents, Maine has a longstanding tradition of working with federal agencies in a civil manner, said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

She said that being respectful is more effective than name-calling. She noted that she spoke last week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about funding the rehabilitation of the Memorial Bridge, connecting Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery.

“If I would call LaHood and start yelling at him and calling him names, it wouldn’t have a positive outcome when it comes to things like federal funds for our necessary bridge,” she said. “It would be counterproductive.”

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, declined to comment. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, could not be reached for comment.

Arden Manning, manager of the Maine Democrats’ coordinated campaign, said the video provides some insight into how a LePage administration might govern.

“If he’s reacting this way to the president of the United States, think about what his response would be to a local legislator or a constituent who disagreed with him,” Manning said. “His comments are offensive. It just shows that LePage is not ready to lead.”

Lance Dutson, spokesman for the Maine Republican Victory Campaign, said Wednesday that political operatives are trying to distract voters from real issues, such as lowering taxes, improving Maine’s economy and creating more jobs.

Dutson said the state has developed a “bizarre” relationship with the federal government when it comes to funding schools and MaineCare, which is Maine’s Medicaid program.

“What Paul is talking about is throwing out the old way of doing business and doing business in Augusta the way everyday Mainers have to, which means not spending more than you take in,” Dutson said.

Conservatives are concerned that Obama’s budget requires the federal government to borrow 33 cents for every dollar spent, said Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

Federal spending in Maine may seem like free money, he said, but all American taxpayers end up footing the bill, along with interest payments. Moreover, state matching funds for federal programs, such as MaineCare, are wreaking havoc on the state budget, he said.

Christopher St. John, executive director of the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, said any effort to turn away federal money will hurt the economy and cause many people to lose their jobs.

He said Maine’s congressional delegation and state officials work hard to protect military contracts and military bases because they create jobs. Federal programs like Medicaid also create jobs and deserve the same level of support, he said.

“We would argue that it just makes good economic sense to maximize the amount of federal dollars we can bring to Maine,” he said.

David Sharp of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com