AUGUSTA — Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a former conservative ally of Republican Gov. Paul LePage who has found himself increasingly in the governor’s cross hairs, said Tuesday he hopes to be the person to replace LePage in 2018.

Thibodeau, in announcing his candidacy, said he believes his experience as a small-business man and his role in helping lead a nearly evenly divided state Legislature makes him uniquely qualified for the job.

“My job as president of the Senate, my job as an elected official, is to do what I believe is in the best interest of our state every time,” Thibodeau said. “That is what I have tried to do. Not only do I have that business background, but a proven ability to get things done in the Legislature.”

Thibodeau, 51, of Winterport, is serving his fourth term in the Senate and his second term as Senate president, after holding the post of Senate minority leader when Democrats controlled the chamber.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, talks to reporters about the Senate Republican’s plan to fund 55% of education funding. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Thibodeau has been praised by both Republicans and Democrats for his leadership and willingness to compromise on key issues, especially the state’s two-year budgets in 2015 and 2017. Thibodeau has also consistently opposed increasing the sales tax as a means to offset income tax cuts proposed by LePage, putting him at odds with LePage on that issue.

Thibodeau is also the co-owner of two small businesses: a tractor dealership in Bangor and Mt. Waldo Plastics, a snow shovel manufacturing plant that produces the “Waldo Snow Fighter.” On Tuesday, Thibodeau noted that sales of a pink version of the shovel have generated $50,000 for cancer research in Maine.

Thibodeau fought successfully this year to repeal a ballot-box law that would have tacked a 3 percent surcharge on household income in Maine over $200,000 to generate more revenue for education. Lawmakers killed the surcharge but approved a $160 million increase in public school funding over two years.

Thibodeau and LePage were once in agreement on many issues, but their relationship has deteriorated and the top Senate Republican has found himself under fire from LePage.

Their rift dates to 2015, when LePage’s political action committee – then led by his daughter Lauren LePage – unleashed a campaign of robocalls against Thibodeau, who had rejected tax reforms in LePage’s two-year budget proposal that year.

In February Thibodeau also took his own Maine Republican Party to task for mimicking President Trump’s attacks on Congress by calling Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon the Speaker of the Swamp. Thibodeau also took aim at some House Republicans, saying they were getting sidetracked by petty political attacks.

Thibodeau said Tuesday that hundreds of people have asked him to get into the race. He also pointed to his campaign’s co-chairmen, Kevin Raye and Bob Emrich, as evidence he has broad support in the Republican Party. Raye, a former Republican state Senate president from Perry, was also known for being willing to broker bipartisan compromise to keep government functioning. Emrich, a pastor from Plymouth, is popular among the state’s evangelical Christians.

Thibodeau’s name had circulated as a possible candidate earlier in October. When U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced last week she wouldn’t run for governor, it became more apparent Thibodeau would get into the race, hoping to sweep up some of Collins’ moderate supporters.

“Sen. Collins is a terrific public servant and there is no question in my mind had she decided to run for governor she would have been Maine’s next governor,” Thibodeau said.

Beyond Emrich and Raye, Thibodeau has also enlisted political consultant and campaign operative Christie-Lee McNally, who led Trump’s campaign in Maine in 2016.

Christie has been credited with helping Trump win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, capturing one of Maine’s four Electoral College votes, marking the first time the state’s votes were split since the state adopted a system of splitting its Electoral College votes by congressional districts in 1972.

Thibodeau said Tuesday it was clear his personal political style was far different from that of Trump’s, but he didn’t take aim at the president.

“I can only be who I am,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, everybody is wired a little different. Everybody has a different approach. I’ve long since discovered that the easiest way to get through life is to be yourself, be honest with people and that’s how I will conduct myself.”

He said he’s been described as “the conservative voice of reason,” and added, “You know, if that’s how people perceive me, I guess I’ll accept that label.”