Gov. Paul LePage, in a video released Wednesday by his re-election campaign, affirmed his support for Social Security benefits and took a swipe at one of his opponents, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, in the process.

LePage, in the 90-second video, resurrected a 15-year-old vote that Michaud cast while he was a member of the Maine Senate. The vote essentially would have created a tax for Social Security recipients who draw high amounts. Then-Gov. Angus King, now a U.S. senator, vetoed the bill.

LePage brought up that vote as a way to contrast his record, which he says in the video includes pension reform that will save $20 million annually. Pensions are different from Social Security.

LePage’s campaign already has paid for a round of robo-calls on the issue of Social Security and Medicare, a clear sign that it understands the political stakes.

Just two weeks ago, LePage’s office put out a news release that lumped Social Security and Medicare into a category of public benefits the governor referred to as “welfare, plain and simple.”

When the media reported what the governor said, his office quickly clarified that he was only talking about Medicaid when using the term “welfare,” and blamed the media and his opponents for twisting his words.

But seniors, including the AARP, took umbrage with the governor’s characterization of the federal entitlement programs.

Not long after LePage’s campaign posted its video Wednesday, the Michaud campaign put out a news release touting the fact that 6,000 people had signed an online petition telling the governor to stop referring to Social Security as welfare.

Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt also said Mainers should look more closely at the governor’s record when it comes to seniors, even on pension reform, which LePage claims as a victory.

“He tried to eliminate $60 million in funding to assisted living facilities. … He has also proposed eliminating the Drugs for the Elderly program, attempted to cut critical programs like Meals on Wheels … and tried to cut respite services for people with Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

As for the pension reforms, Reinholt said they actually cut benefits and froze cost-of-living increases.

The Maine Education Association, the union that represents Maine teachers and has pledged its support for Michaud, also took issue with the governor’s claims.

“I find it unbelievable that Governor Paul LePage is saying he supports seniors,” said Charlene Thompson, a retired teacher from Saco. “His so-called reforms were nothing more than taking money from retired seniors all over our state. It’s shameful.”

– Eric Russell

COLLINS LEADS BELLOWS HANDILY

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins increased her money lead on Democratic opponent Shenna Bellows over the latest fundraising quarter, outraising her by nearly $340,000 for the three months from April 1 to June 30.

Collins will report raising $900,000 in that period, with $4 million on hand out of nearly $5.5 million raised so far, her campaign said Monday. Bellows spokesman Adam Sarvana said the candidate raised approximately $563,000 over the same time span, with about $583,000 left and $1.3 million raised so far.

Updated figures aren’t due to the Federal Election Commission until next week, so details of the filings haven’t been released. Josh Tardy, Collins’ campaign co-chairman, said in a statement that the figures put the campaign “into an excellent position as we get closer to the campaign starting in earnest this fall.”

The wide money gap isn’t the only separation between the candidates going into this important stretch of the campaign. Collins had major leads in three polls released over the past nine months. The latest, conducted for the Portland Press Herald last month, showed Collins leading Bellows by a 72 percent to 17 percent margin, with 10 percent of respondents undecided.

Still, Bellows’ team is expressing confidence, with campaign manager Katie Mae Simpson saying in a statement that they are “excited to see such sustained grassroots support heading into the next phase of this race,” referring specifically to the number of small donors.

The Bellows campaign is banking on a momentum shift in its favor going into the summer’s end, especially around a 350-mile walk from Houlton to Kittery that Bellows will begin July 20.

“Our grassroots support has been significant from the beginning and is continuing to grow heading into Shenna’s walk across the state,” Simpson said.

– Kevin Miller

BIG NAME IN GOP TO RAISE FUNDS

Break out the fine china: A member of Republican royalty is coming to Maine.

Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff for President George W. Bush, will headline a fundraising dinner at the home of a Naples couple July 15.

Card is the featured guest of Don and Nancy Vose, who along with Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett will welcome Card for a $50-per-head reception.

For Card, who was born in Massachusetts, the fundraising visit is only a minor detour from his vacation home in nearby Poland, where the Card family owns a pair of lakefront properties.

This is the second time so far this election season that a big-time Republican name from out of state has swooped in to boost the fundraising efforts of Maine politicians. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also head of the Republican Governors Association, stumped for Gov. Paul LePage in Portland in May.

Before he became the longest-serving White House chief of staff in 50 years, Card served Republican presidents beginning in the administration of Ronald Reagan and continuing under George H.W. Bush, when he was appointed secretary of transportation.

Card most recently served as a dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

– Matt Byrne

PAC BUYING ADS TO BACK MICHAUD

The MaineForward PAC, a political action committee supported by labor unions, teachers and progressive activist groups, announced last week that it plans to reserve upwards of $2 million worth of ad time on local cable and broadcast TV stations this fall in support of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate for governor.

Michaud is locked in a tight three-way race with Republican Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler – both of whom also stand to benefit from outside spending.

However, Michaud appears to be best positioned. He’s getting support from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s Together PAC, which is largely funded by labor unions; the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group advocating for “out” candidates that has already bundled up to $50,000; and Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, which recently launched a $50,000 online ad campaign.

Cutler has promised not to accept contributions from PACs, but the Campaign for Maine has already spent $125,000 on TV ads in support of his candidacy. The Campaign for Maine had about $33,5000 on hand, according to the pre-primary report filed in May.

LePage, meanwhile, will likely get support from the Republican Governors Association. The RGA Maine PAC currently has $184,600 on hand, according to the pre-primary report filed in May.

Mike Shepherd, a reporter for the Kennebec Journal, wrote about Maine Forward PAC back in April when it was formed.

The PAC is getting its support from the Maine Education Association, the Maine AFL-CIO, the Maine State Employees Association, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Democratic Governors Association.

According to the most recent campaign finance filings, Maine Forward has already raised $281,000, of which it has spent $106,000. On Monday, the PAC launched its website and introductory video.

The one-minute, 40-second video picks up on Michaud’s campaign theme of restoring Maine’s national reputation, which he says has suffered because of LePage.

It shows longtime and lifelong Mainers – teachers, mothers, students, others – touting Michaud’s working-class roots and his policies that would protect Maine jobs and expand health care – an expansion LePage has vetoed five times. It also touts the list of endorsements Michaud has racked up – from NARAL Prochoice America and Human Rights Campaign to EqualityMaine and labor groups.

“I want to be proud to say I’m from here again,” says one man.

Sean Sinclair, a consultant working with the PAC, said the TV ads will be running right after Labor Day. “The other components of the campaign are not public yet, but it will be comprehensive,” Sinclair said in an email.

So far, the DGA has contributed the most money to Maine Forward – roughly $165,000. The American Federation for State, County, and Municipal Employees contributed $50,000 and the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund donated $50,000.

– Randy Billings