November 4, 2013

Maine governor candidate Mike Michaud comes out

The six-term congressman’s announcement in an op-ed column may influence the 2014 election to lead the state.

By Steve Mistler
Staff Writer

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud announced Monday that he’s gay, ending years of speculation and potentially sharply changing the dynamic of the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Michaud, 58, currently serving his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, made the disclosure in a column submitted to three of the state’s major news outlets, including the Portland Press Herald. He said he was making the announcement in response to “the whisper campaigns, insinuations and push polls” that unidentified people have been using to raise questions about his personal life since he declared his candidacy.

“They want people to question whether I am gay,” Michaud said. “Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes I am. But why should it matter?’ ”

As congressman for Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, Michaud has long sidestepped questions about his sexuality. But on Monday he made it the subject of a column submitted by his campaign, which required strict reporting and publishing embargoes. Now, nearly a year away from the 2014 election, Michaud’s sexual orientation moves to the forefront, potentially dominating what was expected to be a highly competitive three-way race.

In addition to the Press Herald, the column was submitted to The Associated Press and the Bangor Daily News.

If successful in defeating Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, Michaud could become the first openly gay governor in the country. Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey revealed that he was gay in 2004, but the announcement coincided with his resignation and a blossoming public scandal. Michaud now joins Maryland Democratic candidate Heather Mizeur in seeking to become the first openly gay candidates elected governor.

Michaud’s campaign did not take questions about his announcement or its timing, just one day before LePage kicks off his celebratory launch in Augusta. Terms of the embargo also prohibited reporters from seeking reaction until after 12:01 a.m. Monday. The campaign required that the newspapers agree to the terms in advance, while refusing to disclose the topic of the column until Sunday.

The agreement effectively means Michaud’s campaign controls the first day of media coverage, which will likely bleed into a second full day on Tuesday, the day of the governor’s campaign event.

The timing and the decision raise questions about the campaign’s strategy. Michaud indicated that he hoped the issue would fade to the background of the campaign. However, that result seems unlikely if his sexuality garners the anticipated media attention.

Mizeur, the gay gubernatorial candidate in Maryland, has drawn a host of interviews from national media outlets, yet she is one of five Democratic candidates vying to become her party’s nominee. The reports prominently mention her sexual orientation and the rarity of an openly gay candidate for governor.

Unlike Mizeur, Michaud was virtually handpicked and recruited by the Maine Democratic Party. His candidacy has already garnered attention from national media and from political organizations that will work and pay to get him elected.

He also leaves a relatively safe congressional seat for a gubernatorial bid that is nothing if not uncertain. Recent polls show him with a narrow edge over LePage. Cutler, defeated by the governor by less than two percentage points in 2010, has trailed in third, but his campaign believes he can close the gap.

The rumors about Michaud’s sexual orientation have followed the former mill worker throughout his 33-year political career, but have never been reported. He was first elected to the state Legislature in 1980. Hailing from a Franco-American Catholic family, the Medway native never addressed – and rarely faced –direct questions about his sexuality. It was never publicly made an issue by his opponents during mostly comfortable victories in the 2nd Congressional District.

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