KENNEBUNKPORT -– Gov. Paul LePage cast aside any lingering doubts about his political future Tuesday when he told supporters at a private fundraiser that he fully intends to run for re-election next year.
Republican state Sen. Andre Cushing of Hampden, who attended the event at the Nonantum Resort, said LePage made the announcement shortly after 6 p.m.
“There were a lot of cheers,” Cushing said by telephone Tuesday evening. “He certainly seems ready to go.”
Tuesday’s event, the first major fundraiser of LePage’s re-election campaign, featured an appearance by former Florida governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
It went on without at least one prominent Republican who was listed as a host. Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe had previous plans to attend a wedding, her spokesman said Monday.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also was listed as a host, did attend the event.
Tickets for a private reception beginning at 5 p.m. cost $2,000 per person or $3,000 per couple. Tickets for a general reception that started at 6 p.m. sold for $150.
It wasn’t clear how many people attended. The resort’s function space holds about 200 people, according to its website.
The Portland Press Herald tried to buy a ticket for the general reception but was told the event was closed to the media.
From the sidewalk in front of the resort, a steady stream of people was seen entering late Tuesday afternoon. Among them were several Republican state lawmakers and two men who lost to LePage in the 2010 Republican primary: Bruce Poliquin and Les Otten. Both were listed as hosts for the event.
Before going inside, Otten said he believes the governor has a strong base of support for re-election.
“There are plenty of people who appreciate his commitment to fiscal responsibility and are willing to forgive his misspeakings,” said Otten, who attended the private reception with a companion, Veronica Cross.
Cushing, who attended the general reception, also addressed LePage’s recent off-color comments, saying they were a byproduct of a long legislative session that left many frazzled.
On June 20, the governor told WMTW-TV that Democratic state Sen. Troy Jackson is “the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” and mocked Jackson’s rural, logging background.
The next day, as his comments drew strong rebukes from Democrats and some Republicans, the governor hinted he may run for Congress next year instead of trying for re-election.
A few days later, after the Legislature overrode his veto of the state budget, LePage told reporters that he would not run for Congress but was unsure whether he would run for re-election as governor.
On Tuesday, he appeared to clear up any uncertainty. His announcement sets up a race that is likely to include Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
Michaud announced this week that he raised more than $300,000 in the 17 days after he declared that he’s exploring a gubernatorial run.
Cutler, who narrowly lost to LePage in 2010 and effectively has been running ever since, has raised $430,000 since the beginning of the year, his campaign spokesman said this week.
LePage had raised $172,000 as of December, according to campaign finance reports. The latest report, covering the first six months of this year, will not be released publicly until July 15.
Neither LePage nor Bush could be seen entering the resort on Tuesday, but guests confirmed that the two were inside, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Bush’s family has long had a summer home in Kennebunkport.
His appearance at LePage’s fundraiser was noteworthy. Bush, who has become something of an elder spokesman for the Republican Party as a son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, has expressed hopes that it can evolve into the party of “inclusion and acceptance.”
That appears to clash with LePage, who has a history of controversial and divisive comments and has been willing to call out members of his own party.
The Democratic National Committee seized on Bush’s support for LePage as an example of how Republican leaders “remain beholden to the tea party base that continues to call the shots in today’s GOP.”
According to The Associated Press, Bush spokesman Jaryn Emhof responded by saying, “I know (Bush) has a lot of respect for what Gov. LePage is trying to get done in the state,” and the two spent time together at a national education conference and have “a good rapport.”
One lone protester, Steve Schran, 64, of New Gloucester, picketed in front of the resort Tuesday as guests arrived. He held a sign that read “Go Home Jeb Bush,” and “Common core = communist core,” referring to Bush’s educational philosophy, some of which LePage has tried to implement in Maine, including charter schools. Schran said he spent three decades as a Maine schoolteacher.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant criticized the timing and site of LePage’s announcement.
“It’s telling when the governor of a state chooses a high-dollar fundraiser closed off to the press to announce he’s running for re-election,” Grant said. “Could LePage make it any more obvious that when it comes to being governor, he doesn’t care about Maine’s middle class and average working people?”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
Correction: This article was updated at 9:46 a.m. on Wednesday, July 3, 2013 to note that Sen. Susan Collins did attend the fundraiser.