Friday, March 7, 2014
By Steve Mistler firstname.lastname@example.org
State House Bureau
LEWISTON — Promising more civil and unifying leadership in Augusta, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud kicked off his 2014 gubernatorial bid Thursday in Lewiston, the hometown of his Republican rival and the epicenter of Franco-Americans, the state's oft-pursued block of swing voters.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, announces Thursday that he’s running for governor during a news conference at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston.
Photos by John Ewing / Staff Photographer
Maurice “Mo” Marquis, wearing a Marine Corps League cap, shows his approval of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s run for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday. The Democrat’s rivals, incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, promise a challenging race.
The location of the campaign launch for the six-term congressman and former millworker did not go unnoticed by political observers, who saw it as a symbolic challenge to Gov. Paul LePage. LePage was raised on the nearby hardscrabble streets before rising out of poverty to become the state's chief executive.
Lewiston also is close to southern Maine, where Michaud's campaign must contend with a second front against independent Eliot Cutler.
Michaud's rivals promise a difficult path to the Blaine House. On Thursday, in front of a crowd of more than 100 supporters, Michaud said he was ready for the challenge.
"We are at a crossroads," he said. "Personal and political attacks are standing in the way of progress. Our state has become a punch line on the late-night TV news."
Brent Littlefield, LePage's political adviser, expressed confidence in the governor's ability to win re-election.
"We welcome Michael Michaud's entry into a Maine governor's race that he will lose next year," Littlefield said in a written statement. "While Michaud announces in Gov. LePage's Lewiston childhood home, Gov. LePage is saving and creating hundreds of jobs in Michaud's with the now reopened mill (in East Millinocket)."
Michaud delivered his remarks inside the Franco-American Heritage Center, a former Roman Catholic church that, in an earlier time, was surrounded by the din and economic vitality of Lewiston's now-dormant mills.
During his 20-minute speech, Michaud attempted to appeal to the middle- and working-class residents who he said had "less money in their pockets and more worries on their minds."
"We are being held back by a lack of leadership, by pettiness and anger and by policies that stand in the way of progress, growth and opportunity," he said.
Michaud also took aim at LePage's policy decisions, including the governor's veto of a bill that would have expanded Medicaid, the public insurance program for the poor, by about 70,000 people, including 3,000 veterans.
"I wish that (LePage) had fought half as hard for them (veterans) as they have fought for us," he said.
LEWISTON A KEY BATTLEGROUND
That Michaud chose the center as the site for his campaign kickoff makes political sense. Lewiston is the second-largest population center in the state. Roughly a third of its residents are Franco-American, a hotly pursued block of voters by candidates seeking statewide office.
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine-Farmington, said the location was right for Michaud.
"It's a little far away from his native turf," Melcher said. "But there are a lot of strategic reasons for doing it in Lewiston. . . . It's doubtful that anyone will remember it a year from now, but it was good symbolic politics to launch his campaign there."
LePage carried this city when he won the 2010 election. Michaud has won Lewiston each of the six times he was elected to the 2nd Congressional District seat, including 2002, when he became the first Franco-American from Maine elected to Congress.
Michaud described the city as a special place, noting it's Franco-American heritage and a "tradition of hard work and transformation."
But taking Lewiston and the Blaine House from LePage won't be easy, according to political observers. The governor has his share of detractors, but he, like Michaud, is considered a good one-on-one politician, thriving in up-close interactions with Mainers.
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Phil Nelsen of Lewiston listens to U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announce his candidacy for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday.
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Supporters applaud during a news conference at which U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announced his candidacy for governor at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston on Thursday.