Gov. Paul LePage’s third State of the State address was delivered to an assembly of Maine lawmakers, but Tuesday’s 50-minute speech was directed at the two men with the best chance of keeping him out of the Blaine House for another four years.

Using a television audience and scolding and swaggering rhetoric, LePage laid out broad policy initiatives that have little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Legislature but will show Mainers a sharp distinction between his vision for the state and that of his challengers, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

From his vow to create “Open for Business” zones to attract large companies that would be exempt from collective bargaining law, to a war on drugs focused on arrest and prosecution, LePage rolled out sweeping policy initiatives that will serve to define his bid for a second term.

Even his call for a statewide referendum to ask Maine voters if they want to support $100 million in tax relief in exchange for $100 million in reduced government spending appeared to double as a campaign strategy to mobilize voters.

Cutler and Michaud characterized the governor’s address as a divisive stump speech that did little to advance ideas that could be accomplished with cooperation from state lawmakers.

Cutler said Wednesday that the speech showed a failure of leadership. He said LePage chose to reaffirm his ideological vision over initiatives that he and the Legislature could push to help solve Maine’s problems.

“The governor gave his speech last night to a Legislature that I cannot imagine ever going along with what he wants to do, at least as he described it,” Cutler said. “Then he berated them for not doing exactly what he says. … It was shameful and the mark of failure.”

Michaud, in a prepared statement, said the policies the governor pushed on Tuesday are “consistent with his leadership style.”

“They’re combative and ineffective,” Michaud said. “We won’t strengthen Maine’s economy by attacking our workers, which seems to be the main point of his ‘business zone’ idea, and we can’t grow the middle class unless we help small businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators, who the governor ignored during his speech.”

The Open for Business zones appear to be a combination of the Pine Tree Development Zones expanded by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and a spinoff of the FreeMe initiative advanced by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group.

LePage’s zones would be similar to the Pine Tree zones by offering companies tax breaks and energy subsidies for locating in Maine. A company would have to invest at least $50 million and create 1,500 jobs to qualify.

Michaud and other critics have said that proposal would do little to help small businesses.

“We need a governor who understands that the key to a strong economy is a strong middle class, and that prosperity will come when we empower our entrepreneurs and innovators,” Michaud said.

“He’s talking about creating, as far as I can tell, pockets in Maine that match his ideals – his ideals – of what the Maine economy ought to look like,” said Cutler. “It’s unfair to the rest of Maine.”

In his speech, LePage noted that companies in the zones would be exempt from collective bargaining requirements, which would allow Maine to compete with right-to-work states.

But Cutler said that proposal is an ideologically driven red herring.

“(Unions) are not the big problem with the Maine economy,” he said. “I talk to a lot of business leaders in Maine. They don’t talk about the unions. They talk about a trained and educated workforce, a healthy workforce.”

LePage also took sharp aim at a Democratic-led effort to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, an effort that Michaud and Cutler support.

LePage used the word “MaineCare” – the state’s Medicaid program – only once in his prepared remarks, and instead continued to call it “welfare expansion.” He used the word “welfare” at least 20 times on Tuesday. He never used it during his 2013 State of the State speech.

Michaud and Cutler criticized the governor for refusing to expand Medicaid.

“If you look around the country, Republican governors in a number of states, including New Jersey, Arizona, Ohio and several others, have expanded Medicaid,” Cutler said. “Why? Because it financially makes sense and it’s the right thing to do.”

Michaud’s campaign also highlighted LePage’s opposition to Medicaid expansion, as well as an unscripted moment during the speech when the governor looked at Democrats in the House chamber and said, “Shame on you.”

“No, shame on you, Governor LePage,” Matt McTighe, Michaud’s campaign manager, responded in a fundraising email. “Medicaid expansion isn’t a pipe dream. It’s not welfare. And it’s certainly not shameful.”

LePage’s opponents are generally supportive of infrastructure and transportation investments through state borrowing.

Cutler questioned why LePage waited until his re-election year to lift his ban on state borrowing and push a plan to invest $2 billion in the projects, which the governor says will lead to the creation of 25,000 jobs.

“Unfortunately, he missed the boat on interest rates, he missed the boat on putting people back to work,” Cutler said. “I can’t imagine that he was waiting until an election year to do it, but I’m glad he did it.”

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler