BANGOR — A weeks-old sound bite of Republican Paul LePage saying he would tell President Obama to “go to hell” came up again Monday during a live televised debate in Bangor.

LePage apologized for the remark, and lobbed new criticism at his Democratic opponent, Libby Mitchell.

“I just saw a picture of Sen. Mitchell holding a picture of Bush, calling him a terrorist,” he said.

Mitchell responded: “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

LePage said: “I’ll send you the picture.”

After apparently seeing the picture after the debate, Mitchell released a statement late Monday night.

“After seeing this picture for the first time tonight, I regret the possible disrespect it may show to the office of the president. I am very sorry for having posed with this item,” the statement read.

The exchange came during a debate co-hosted by the Bangor Daily News and WVII ABC 7-WFVX Fox 22.

Independent Shawn Moody brought up LePage’s comments about Obama – which drew national news coverage – while answering a question about how to increase tourism across the state.

He said LePage insulted Obama after the president brought his family here on vacation and attracted national attention for Maine.

After the debate, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt had a photo on his Blackberry that showed Mitchell holding a framed document with a photo of President George W. Bush that referred to him as an “international terrorist.”

Demeritt said it is being circulated by the Maine Republican Party.

“This was Paul’s way of saying people take jabs at other people in other parties,” he said.

Spokesmen for Mitchell said they had no knowledge of the photo.

After a slow start, the debate picked up as candidates took some policy positions on transportation and land use, and pushed each other on issues of leadership and temperament.

How to pay for roads and bridge improvements proved to be another area of disagreement.

LePage, the mayor of Waterville, said he was disappointed that the state gave the city $750,000 to fix a 100-year-old footbridge, while roads are left untended.

“I believe we need to shrink the bureaucracy of Augusta,” he said. “It’s bloated. It’s big.”

Mitchell, Maine’s Senate president, said she looked into the money for Waterville and found that it came from the federal government with restricted uses, so it couldn’t be spent on roads.

“The economies have been there,” she said. “There is no bloated bureaucracy.”

That led independent Eliot Cutler to quip, “There they go again.

“The bickering is not going to get us any place,” he said.

With just three weeks left until the Nov. 2 election, the candidates will ramp up participation in more televised debates, in addition to typical campaign stops such as business visits, house parties and forums hosted by various special-interest groups.

Recent polls show Mitchell and LePage in a dead heat, followed by Cutler, Moody and independent Kevin Scott. The Maine Poll, commissioned by MaineToday Media and conducted by Critical Insights of Portland, also showed 26 percent undecided in results released Sept. 29.

One segment of Monday’s debate featured questions for individual candidates that were more pointed than questions that went to the field.

Mitchell was asked by the debate’s panel why she’s running ads critical of LePage that some describe as negative.

“Elections are about choices,” she said. “People need to understand the differences.”

The panel asked LePage how he intends to pay for an income tax cut that is projected to reduce state revenue by $800 million.

LePage said he would allow businesses to grow and prosper, which would bring in more money to the state. He said the cut wouldn’t be immediate, but “coffers of the state will be able to lower the tax burden.”

Cutler was asked why he has spent so much of his adult professional life away from Maine.

He said there weren’t jobs available when he and his wife finished law school, so they left the state.

“I never planned to be away from home for so many years,” he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com