Gov. Paul LePage may be facing the greatest challenge of his political career, with legislators on both sides of the aisle questioning his ability to lead the state after more than a week of controversy.

But there is one group in Maine that has not wavered in its support of the embattled governor: rank-and-file Republican voters who were first attracted to the former Waterville mayor in 2010 for his brash style and say-it-like-it-is delivery.

Several voters who cast ballots for LePage in 2014, when he won the state with 48 percent of the vote, said in interviews that they are unmoved by the latest imbroglio.

Although some said they would like to see the governor moderate his tone and control his intemperate comments, none had changed their minds about supporting him.

On the contrary, some people who were interviewed said his racially charged remarks about out-of-state drug dealers and an angry, obscenity-laden voice mail he left for a Democratic lawmaker have reinforced why they think he’s still the right man for the job.

Although not everyone interviewed by the Maine Sunday Telegram was willing to be named, all said they continue to support the governor.

“He is who he is,” said Mike Bartlett, 72, of Wiscasset, who voted for LePage in 2014. “He is certainly not a polished politician able to deflect attacks, personal or policywise. He is just a visceral guy. I find it embarrassing and refreshing, both at the same time.”

LePage dominated the 2014 gubernatorial election, winning 48.2 percent of the vote in a three-way race, drawing support largely from inland, rural precincts. The result topped his performance in the 2010 gubernatorial election, when he won the Blaine House with 38 percent of the vote in a crowded, five-way race.

SUPPORTERS LIKE DISRUPTING STATUS QUO

The most recent controversy began Aug. 24 in North Berwick, where at a town hall meeting LePage said more than 90 percent of the drug dealers arrested for bringing heroin and other narcotics into Maine are black or Hispanic, adding that he has kept a scrapbook of news clippings since January with mugshots to prove the point.

LePage did not address questions about why the race of drug dealers was important to note, then followed up his initial comments during a news conference on Aug. 26 that again invoked race.

“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy; I don’t care what color he is,” LePage told reporters. “When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red.”

LePage then said: “You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

LePage defended his comments, which drew widespread criticism, and left an obscenity-laden voice mail for Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, who the governor believed had called him a racist. Gattine denied using the word, saying he called LePage’s comments racially charged.

Bartlett and others who were interviewed said LePage’s willingness to disrupt the status quo in Augusta is why they voted for him, and so far, they believe LePage has followed through on his promises.

Ron Schmidt, a longtime professor of political science and the University of Southern Maine, said the responses by LePage voters raise important questions about what they believe the governor is meant to do in office. If, in their eyes, LePage’s role is to enforce the laws and represent the state, then his outbursts and the national and international media attention they garner could pose a problem.

“If, on the other hand, you think his job is to represent what you see as the average person, and you’re in the group, then this wouldn’t be the problem at all,” Schmidt said.

In the governor’s outbursts, Schmidt said he also sees a measure of self-pity in the public displays of rage, and suggested that because LePage portrays himself as unfairly maligned, he is able to evoke a sense of sympathy from supporters.

‘IT SHOWS HE CAN HAVE HUMAN MOMENTS’

Jack Moore, 56, of Waterford said the situation proves that LePage is human and fallible, like everyone else.

“Do I approve of what he said or how he said it? No,” Moore said. “But should he leave? No. Because he’s done a tremendous job since he’s been there and will continue to do so.”

Moore said he can identify with the governor’s feelings of frustration. A former Marine platoon leader, Moore said he sometimes wanted to throttle every member in his command.

“I think it shows he can have human moments, too, and just because you lose your temper and get angry doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to lead,” Moore said.

Bob Hamalainen, 66, of Rockport said while he believes the governor is not wrong about the racial makeup of out-of-state drug dealers, his delivery and wording proved problematic.

“I understand what he was trying to say, what he was trying to do, and I tend to agree with him,” Hamalainen said. “However, he’s very forthright, blunt, and that’s his Achilles’ heel. He doesn’t phrase it in the typical politician’s way, so it comes out as crass.”

When it came to the voice mail and the vulgar language used in it, Hamalainen said that the governor had crossed a line.

“I think that was a very critical mistake on his part,” he said. “He’s paying the price and he deserves to pay the price for losing his self-control and his common sense. I understand he is human, he’s going to have feelings and anger, but if he’s going to be the governor, he’s got to show more self-control and be more civil.”

‘HE’S GOT TO CALM DOWN A LITTLE BIT’

Although none of the supporters interviewed disavowed LePage or his policies, several, like Hamalainen, expressed a desire to see him exercise more self-control.

“I think he’s got to calm down a little bit,” said George Hopkins, 87, of Trenton.

Hopkins voted for LePage because of his promise to bring a measure of fiscal responsibility to state government, and that’s something the governor so far has followed through on, he said. But he compared the governor’s position to that of the president of the United States and other top elected officials, who should expect that their every word will be parsed and scrutinized.

“When you’re in a high position, you have to use some discretion,” Hopkins said. “I think he’s a very smart man and he’s trying to help the state of Maine. You can’t say the things to everybody you want.”

Gary Jordan, 79, of St. Albans said he does not think the governor is racist, only that he is blind to the effect of his words.

Jordan said he worked in predominantly African-American communities in New York City and New Jersey for years, and was on the ground during the Newark riots in 1967, when racial prejudice reverberated through the community.

“I think (LePage) means well, but I don’t know (if) he realizes the damage he’s done with the way he’s saying it,” said Jordan, who added that he does not believe the governor is a racist, only that he struggles to articulate his thoughts on sensitive subjects such as race.

An unfortunate byproduct of the controversy is whether LePage can continue to be effective in pursuing his policy agenda, Jordan said.

“I think he’s going to have a hard time,” Jordan said. “I think it’s just the attitude between the House and the Senate. … I do think he’ll have problems with the Legislature.”