The Maine gubernatorial race devolved into another round of partisan finger-pointing Friday, with Republicans and Democrats trading accusations over a blogger’s video that included a rapper’s lewd reference to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud hit back at Maine’s Republican Party for falsely accusing him of making the video that contained a sexual reference to Collins, a Republican.
“People attack each other blindly without regard for the truth,” the six-term congressman said. “That is what’s hurting this state and this country. Now after four years of (Republican) Gov. Paul LePage, the same nastiness has come to Maine.”
Michaud, at a news conference at the Portland Jetport immediately following his flight from Washington, D.C., told reporters that his campaign had no involvement with the editing or production of a documentary video made about him by Bangor Daily News blogger Alex Steed. In one scene, Michaud is seen climbing out of a black SUV as a soundtrack by Maine rap artist Spose plays in the background.
At one point, Spose blurts the lyrics, “I’m the King of Maine, I’m the King of Maine, I’ve got Susan Collins giving everyone brain.”
“Brain” is urban slang for “oral sex.”
Michaud reiterated earlier comments by his campaign staff, who said the campaign neither paid for, nor had any editorial input into the video. The campaign, however, initially had promoted the video on Twitter before asking the Bangor Daily News to remove it after being informed of the lyrics’ sexual connotation.
Their meaning also eluded some Republicans, who themselves promoted the video because it mentioned Collins. One tweet by Maine Republican Party executive director Jason Savage was deleted, but then shared by Democratic officials who were fighting back against the attack on Michaud.
“They said I was responsible for a video containing a lewd, inappropriate comment about my colleague U.S. Sen. Susan Collins,” Michaud said at the news conference. “That is a lie.”
He condemned the language in the song and said Republicans should apologize to Collins for dragging her into the “gutter” fight.
David Sorensen, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said the Michaud campaign was trying to distance itself from the video. Asked if he believed the Democrat’s campaign had any control over the production of the video or its soundtrack choices, he said that was a question for Michaud’s team.
And Sorensen wouldn’t give a direct answer when asked if the party could back up its claim that Michaud’s campaign made the video. The headline on the party’s press release inaccurately attributed the lyrics to Michaud, stating, “Michaud suggests Sen. Collins performs graphic sexual acts.”
Sorensen said Michaud’s staff had given Steed, the blogger and video producer, access to the congressman and his staff, therefore he was involved in the production. The video also includes footage from Michaud’s congressional office in Washington.
Sorensen noted that the Michaud campaign promoted the video from its Twitter account. “All we’re asking is for the Michaud campaign to apologize,” he said.
Steed said Friday that the Republican claims were dishonest. He said the video was part of a documentary series by his production company, Knack Factory, and had no affiliation with the campaign.
Steed apologized to Collins and said, “Michaud had nothing to do with it.”
Steed said he also was unaware that the “brain” reference was a euphemism for a sexual act.
Lance Dutson, a spokesman for Collins’ reelection campaign, said the senator had no comment on the video.
Steed said his company had originally intended to follow all three gubernatorial candidates, including independent Eliot Cutler and LePage, but decided to just film Michaud because the company was “awed” by the “historic nature” of his candidacy.
Michaud could become the country’s first openly gay person to be elected governor.
Spose, whose legal name is Ryan Peters, lives in Wells. His song “The King of Maine” is mostly self-deprecating and includes references to his modest wealth.
Peters said the song was designed to be tongue-in-cheek and to make ordinary people feel like a king would. The song was released earlier this year and was not written for the campaign. As for the reference to Collins, he said, “I thought it would be absurd and hilarious to take her out of her political character.”
He had given Knack Factory permission to use his song in the video and other productions.
Republican Party spokeswoman Deborah Sanderson, a state representative, said in a written statement that Michaud’s campaign “made” the video. However, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, there are no expenditures to Steed or Knack Factory by the Michaud campaign.
Knack Factory has produced a video for former state Senate candidate Steve Woods, a Democrat from Yarmouth.
Steed, who writes a blog and a print column for the newspaper, said blog posts are not vetted by the newspaper’s editors. He said Anthony Ronzio, the newspaper’s director of news and media, notified him that his post had been removed Friday morning. Knack Factory later removed the video from its Vimeo site, Steed said.
Ronzio confirmed Steed’s account in a written statement.
The rap song’s attitude and lyrics contrast sharply with other messages about Michaud in the video. Before the rap song is introduced, Michaud is shown hugging an older woman who had dropped off a knitted afghan and pillow. Michaud tells the cameraman that the pillow and afghan were made by his deceased mother, and finished by the woman in the video.
Cutler was in Portland on Friday to receive endorsements from Republican business owners and told the Portland Press Herald that he had not seen the video, but his staff described it to him.
“It will be for others to judge,” Cutler said. “But I think it’s disrespectful. (Michaud) has worked with Sen. Collins. She is someone who has a tremendous reputation and is universally respected. You just don’t do that.”
Ben Grant, Maine Democratic Party chairman, called the attack “gutter politics.”
“If the Maine GOP was really concerned with the editorial choices made in this video, they would contact the media outlet that produced the film,” Grant said in a statement. “Instead, they just decided to go with a bald-faced, easily disproven lie about Mike Michaud. This type of gutter politics is destructive and hurts the entire political process.”
Michaud told reporters that he contacted Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett to protest the attack. He said Bennett told him he was aware of the press release but did not know all of the details and would look into the matter.
“I just left that kind of dirty and gutter politics in Washington, D.C.,” Michaud said. “It’s outrageous. Washington right now is broken because of the petty attacks and the outright lies like the one we’re seeing here today.”