President Trump reportedly told his advisers that he wants Maine Gov. Paul LePage to run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Angus King in 2018.

Trump told aides who were meeting at the White House this week to discuss potential Republican Senate candidates that he planned to call LePage and offer his endorsement if he entered the race against King, The Washington Post reported, citing two people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In February 2016, LePage endorsed Trump’s bid for the White House.

LePage has entertained the idea of running for King’s seat, but earlier this year indicated he was no longer interested in challenging King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

King has made it clear on several occasions that he plans to seek re-election in 2018. King already has a challenger in state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. Brakey’s campaign website promotes him as a candidate who will “disrupt the status quo,” adding, “Help us drain the swamp and give power back to you, the people.”

Brakey’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday evening in reaction to The Washington Post story.

“Our campaign continues working hard and we are quickly gaining momentum,” Brakey said. “Governor LePage has said on several occasions that he has no plans to run for U.S. Senate and I take him at his word. Together, the governor and I have already endorsed a candidate to replace me in the Maine Senate.”

“I am not distracted by Washington gossip,” Brakey said. “Instead, I am spreading my ‘Liberty for the Little Guy’ message as I continue meeting with Maine people.”

PRESIDENT WORKING TO HELP PARTY

Brent Littlefield, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant who often advises the governor on political issues, declined to comment on the Post story when contacted Wednesday evening.

Littlefield noted that he was not invited to the White House meeting with Trump’s advisers and he does not know what was said. Several national media organizations contacted him about the Post article and he told them the same thing, Littlefield said.

“I have no comment,” he said in an email.

In May, Littlefield said the governor would not challenge King in 2018.

“Governor Paul LePage has helped the state of Maine achieve the largest number of private-sector jobs in history, implement the largest tax cut in state history, and implement reforms which have resulted in Maine showing a significant revenue surplus earlier this year and, while these accomplishments are great, there is more to do,” Littlefield said in a written statement at the time. “Therefore, the governor will remain focused on the job at hand and not enter the United States Senate race in 2018.”

But two months later, LePage once again suggested he might jump into the race if Brakey’s campaign failed to gain traction. Brakey’s bid to defeat King is considered a long shot given the incumbent’s name recognition, high approval ratings and national profile because of his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee. At the end of September, Brakey reported just $53,000 in his campaign account, compared with King’s $1.5 million.

The Post reported that LePage’s name came up Tuesday at a White House meeting on Senate candidates, as Trump and his team went through a list of states and races – including Arizona, Missouri and Maine – looking at individual candidates and poll numbers and what candidates could get in the races.

“The president is actively engaged in fundraising, candidate recruitment and other efforts to help elect Republicans up and down the ballot,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, told the Post. He declined to comment on the LePage conversations, calling them private.

LEPAGE A FAVORITE OF TRUMP’S

Although LePage has backed Trump, the president’s administration hasn’t supported the governor on key issues, including Katahdin Woods and Waters’ designation as a national monument, repayment of $51 million in federal money used at Riverview Psychiatric Center and a proposal to streamline Maine’s workforce development boards.

Even so, LePage is a favorite of Trump, White House officials say. The president will occasionally ask about him unprompted or will see him on TV and make positive comments, the Post reported.

“Gov. LePage of Maine, who by the way has lost a lot of weight,” Trump said in April, introducing him during a ceremony in Washington. “I knew him when he was heavy and now I know him when he’s thin. I like him both ways.”

In another connection between the men, David Sorensen left his role as a senior adviser to LePage in May to join the Trump administration as a speechwriter.

White House officials have been in touch with LePage’s political team in recent weeks, the report said. LePage’s staff did not respond to an email asking for a comment about that.

LePage’s name has been floated numerous times before as a potential challenger against King, oftentimes by the governor himself. He has repeatedly told crowds or radio hosts that he was seriously considering running against King – a former two-term governor – only to later walk back his comments. LePage often says he would need the approval of his wife, Ann, to run against King.

She also has been mentioned as a possible challenger to King. In October, The New York Times reported that Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was trying to persuade her to run for King’s Senate seat.

Paul LePage’s approval rating in Maine is 42 percent, according to Morning Consult, ranking him the seventh least-popular governor in the country. He has caught flak in Maine for controversial statements about minorities, threatening comments to a lawmaker in a voicemail and an assertion that he makes up stories to fool the media.

He also has a contentious relationship with Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Maine’s senior senator.

But LePage also has won election twice and cut taxes in Maine, while reducing some regulations and raising the amount of money the state has in the bank.

KING A WELL-LIKED INCUMBENT

“Angus King is a very strong candidate for re-election,” said Amy Fried, chair of the political science department at the University of Maine. “His approval ratings have been high, he takes a lot of care in staying in touch with Maine, and he is a strong, popular independent.”

But Fried also said LePage “certainly has a strong base” and high name recognition.

LePage has kept a relatively low profile lately. According to his website, his last town hall meeting, where he promotes his agenda and fields questions from the public, was held in April in Fort Kent.

He also traveled to Washington in May for meetings with scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding Maine blueberry production, and officials involved in health care and Medicaid reform.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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