BANGOR — Stepping into an unseasonably warm, overcast morning in mid-October, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud jogs up State Street in his suit and tie to greet a small group of union picketers. They are FairPoint employees, about to go on strike, and they cheer and chant “We like Mike,” as Michaud bounces across Harlow Street against the light.

The former union leader, a member of United Steelworkers of America and the Democratic candidate for governor, likes to shake hands with everyone, especially blue-collar union workers. This one-on-one, street-level campaigning is his forte, something the former mill worker is more comfortable at than delivering prepared remarks to a crowd from a podium.

“We’re going to get everyone we can out for you,” says Dan Brown, the steward of the Communications Workers of America Local 1400. “We need someone in Augusta that’s going to support middle-class, working families.”

Michaud chats for about 10 minutes before telling the workers, “You guys hang in there.”

Michaud is about to log a 14-hour day on the campaign trail, traveling more than 115 miles for events in five towns in the sprawling 2nd District, the largest east of the Mississippi and the more conservative of Maine’s two U.S. House districts.

Michaud’s schedule reflects a close race to unseat Republican Gov. Paul LePage. With a base of support in rural Maine and national financial backing, Michaud says he is the only candidate who can defeat LePage, while advancing a pro-middle class agenda that will increase the minimum wage, invest in renewable energy and bring people together.

Michaud and the outside groups that support his candidacy have raked in millions of dollars in contributions to get his message out. Polls show that he and LePage are in a tight race. Independent Eliot Cutler is running a distant third, yet he poses a threat to Michaud as another liberal candidate who could tip the election in LePage’s favor by carving off votes from the left.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Back on State Street, Michaud and his communications director, Lizzy Reinholt, hop into a shiny black Chevy Suburban equipped with a Wi-Fi hot-spot and four rows of leather seats. With only 19 days until the election, they have hired a driver so they can get work done on the road.

Michaud gazes at the Kenduskeag River en route to C&L Aerospace, an aviation services company, where he and Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will appear at a news conference to celebrate the official opening of a new paint hangar.

Michaud arrives 40 minutes early. In a conference room, he chats with C&L’s CEO, Chris Kilgour, and local officials about the previous night’s gubernatorial debate, in which Michaud was repeatedly attacked by LePage and Cutler.

“In some cases, I didn’t realize I was such a bad person,” Michaud jokes.

When Collins arrives, she quickly shakes hands with Michaud, but doesn’t exchange pleasantries as she did with the others in the room. It is, after all, late in the campaign season, and Collins supports LePage.

Collins tells the crowd of workers and journalists that she fought for an $580,000 grant to help build the new paint hangar. So did Michaud, who says he personally brought a key federal official to Bangor in spring 2013.

‘I ASK FOR YOUR VOTE’

At a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in Glenburn, Michaud talks to an assembly of 160 middle school students who have followed the race in civics class. Students are not shy about asking questions regarding welfare reform, tax cuts and health care.

Michaud delivers standard answers and criticisms of the incumbent governor, only in a slower and softer tone geared to his youthful listeners.

“Are you rich?” one girl asks.

“No,” Michaud says with a laugh. He repeats that formerly he was a mill worker whose starting wage was less than $3 an hour.

Michaud may be one of the least affluent members of Congress, but his campaign is the richest of the three candidates. As of Sept. 16, he had raised $2.4 million, more than any other candidate, excluding the $1 million Cutler has loaned himself.

Michaud, who has the support of the Maine Education Association and whose sister is a teacher in York County, tells his school audience that he wants to be the “education governor.” He opposes charter schools and wants to invest in preschool, fully fund public K-12 education at 55 percent and allow students to attend college for free during their sophomore year.

After about 15 minutes, the students, who will vote in a mock election the next week, grow restless. He emphasizes the importance of voting. “I ask for your vote.”

ROLLING UP HIS SLEEVES

Michaud’s next stop is at Bucksport Town Hall, where a light rain begins to fall as he meets behind closed doors with town, school and union officials about the impending closure of the Verso Paper mill, which will likely put 570 people out of work.

Forty minutes later, Michaud emerges from the small conference room and rides with a union leader to meet mill workers during the shift change.

Ditching his tie and suit coat, and rolling up his sleeves, he listens intently to the workers, who are still in shock over the sudden Oct. 1 announcement, and says he understands what they’re going through. Great Northern Paper Co., the East Millinocket mill at which he worked for nearly 30 years, also shut down this summer and he is still close with many of the affected workers.

The rumor of the day seems to be that the Verso mill may be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which could jeopardize the workers’ severance, health care and pensions.

“This mill runs on two things: coffee and rumors,” explains Dave Ward, who has worked there for 23 years.

Ward, a Michaud supporter, then embarks on a tirade laced with profanities, which Michaud absorbs without flinching. He tells Ward that C&L Aerospace, where he appeared earlier, is hiring painters.

At 4 p.m., with appearances pending at a Rotary event in Old Town and a meet-and-greet in Ellsworth, Michaud’s campaign manager, Matt McTighe, huddles with Reinholt, the communication director, for a debriefing.

In a parking lot overlooking the mill, Michaud is left unattended, still talking to a few union leaders.

His day ends at 9 p.m. where it began, according to his campaign staff – at the Comfort Inn in Bangor, where he would be in bed by 11 p.m. in anticipation of another day of campaigning.