WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican Gov. Paul LePage offered dueling views Wednesday on whether Maine should expand its Medicaid programs, in what could be an early skirmish in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Without naming LePage, Michaud released a statement Wednesday morning urging the state to go along with the Medicaid expansions in the federal Affordable Care Act.

Expanding MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, would provide health coverage to more than 50,000 additional lower-income Mainers. LePage is among the governors nationwide who have yet to agree to the expansion, which will be entirely funded by the federal government for three years and then funded at 90 percent.

“This is an issue that directly impacts the health of Mainers and the health of our economy,” Michaud after meeting with affected Mainers at the Bangor office of the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive organization.

“The state should accept this federal funding that has been set aside for Maine so that we can further reduce the uninsured population. Doing so could help expand and maintain health care for over 69,000 Mainers and provide a boost to our state’s economy.”

Hours later, LePage issued a statement whose second sentence notes that Michaud is considering running for governor in 2014. The governor, who is expected to seek re-election, said declining federal Medicaid reimbursement rates have created a “massive financial hardship for Maine” and the federal government cannot guarantee it will fully fund the expansion.

“The federal debt has more than doubled since Rep. Michaud has been in Congress,” LePage said. “Unlike the career politicians in Washington, D.C., the Maine Governor has to balance the budget.”

He added: “Congressman Michaud, what is your plan to balance the federal budget, which already has a deficit of $17 trillion, and create a sustainable Medicaid program for our country? … Where does the money come from? You can’t govern a state on empty promises from the federal government.”

Michaud, who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, has yet to announce whether he will seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and former Gov. John Baldacci are also considering running.

It’s likely that only one of the three Democrats will enter the race, to avoid a high-profile and costly primary.

Several polls released in recent weeks have fed speculation that Maine voters face another close race in 2014 with a Democrat, LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, who finished second in 2010.

A poll of 403 residents, released Wednesday by Pan Atlantic SMS Group, showed LePage winning several three-way races against Cutler, Michaud or others but suggested that Cutler could beat LePage in a one-on-one race if he ran as a Democrat. The poll had Michaud trailing LePage by a significant margin in a three-way race.

In response, the Maine Democratic Party released internal poll showing Michaud just 3 percentage points behind LePage and ahead of Cutler. Those results were similar to an earlier statewide survey by Public Policy Polling.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC