AUGUSTA — As a junior at the University of Maine, Brent Littlefield decided that his campaign for student government president needed an 11th-hour push, so he turned to the new campus phone system, which his campaign programmed to make automated calls to 8,000 students.
“It was the first-ever use of robo calls on campus during a campaign,” said Littlefield, who won that election in 1992 and went on to become a political consultant based outside Washington.
Paul LePage, who will take the oath of office today, owes a good deal of credit to Littlefield’s behind-the-scenes work for the election victory that made him Maine’s first Republican governor in 16 years.
As LePage’s senior political adviser, Littlefield was put in charge of inaugural activities, including the formal ceremony at 11:30 a.m. and tonight’s invitation-only reeption at the Augusta Civic Center. About 5,000 people are expected to attend.
Littlefield, 40, said he was encouraged to work for LePage by several GOP supporters who described him as the “real deal.” He agreed to help after meeting LePage at the Senator Inn & Spa in Augusta.
Littlefield, who spent much of his childhood in tiny Winn in Penobscot County, grew up around paper mills – where his father worked – and learned to love the outdoors. He watched families struggle as good-paying jobs disappeared, so he and LePage saw eye-to-eye on the need for jobs.
“Maine can be better. There can be more jobs in Maine,” said Littlefield. “He comes at it from a business angle, but he gets the politics. And he’s very, very driven. And he didn’t seem afraid of the challenges, or the need for serious changes. Frankly, I found that quite refreshing.”
Littlefield persuaded LePage to talk about his life story of overcoming adversity. The son of an abusive father, LePage left home when he was 11 but managed to go to college, serve as mayor of Waterville and work as general manager of Marden’s Surplus and Salvage.
John Morris, LePage’s campaign chief of staff, credits Littlefield for sharpening the campaign’s focus and coming up with his “three onlys” theme before the Republican primary in June.
“Paul was the only candidate who had a compelling life story. Paul was the only candidate who had a successful experience as a chief executive officer of a government entity. And Paul was the only candidate who was the executive of a prosperous Maine business,” Morris said.
Because LePage was heavily outspent, Littlefield saved money by targeting 35,000 Republican homes with signs that had LePage’s name on one side and a letter from LePage on the other. For the general election, those signs went to 80,000 independent voters and “soft Democrats,” Morris said.
Littlefield also pulled a page out of his college playbook. He created a database of people who speak French or grew up in households where French was spoken. Those homes were targeted by phone calls from Le- Page, who is Franco-American and speaks French.
“He was a very important cog in the wheel that won this election. And he is a brilliant strategist,” said Morris, who has been appointed public safety commissioner.
Former Democratic state Sen. Ethan Strimling of Portland respects Littlefield’s talents.
Back in 1991, Strimling was running for student government president on one slate, and Littlefield was running for vice president on another. Littlefield did a better job of getting out the vote and his ticket won, Strimling said.
“It was a very spirited race,” he said. “It was the highest turnout the school had ever seen.”
The next year, Littlefield employed the campus telephone system when he ran again, this time for president. Strimling chuckled at the lengths to which Littlefield went to win. Littlefield acknowledges buying pizzas for his campaign workers as they typed telephone numbers into the system.
“I can appreciate a good campaign tactic. If you’re keeping it legal, and being creative, I give you kudos,” said Strimling.