What’s one gubernatorial forum among more than 30?

That’s the thinking of Republican candidate Paul LePage, who decided late Wednesday to withdraw from a live televised debate tonight at Bates College in Lewiston.

The debate, hosted by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, will be broadcast live on TV, radio and the Web starting at 8 p.m. with four candidates: Democrat Libby Mitchell and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott. It is the next-to-last debate scheduled before the Nov. 2 election.

LePage’s campaign spokesman, Dan Demeritt, said late Wednesday — just before a debate that LePage was attending in Bangor — that the late withdrawal from tonight’s debate will let the candidate meet with voters instead as part of his “People Before Politics” initiative.

“We’ve done 29 of these events so far, and the MPBN one would have been the 30th,” Demeritt said. “We looked at the schedule and made a strategic decision. We’d rather take advantage of campaign opportunities; it will be retail politicking.”

Demeritt said LePage plans to make stops in Newport and Millinocket in the late afternoon, then do radio interviews early Friday morning.

Demeritt said LePage still plans to attend the final debate, scheduled for Saturday in Portland, sponsored by WGME-TV and MaineToday Media.

Keith Shortall, MPBN’s news director, said in a written statement that the LePage campaign notified him of LePage’s withdrawal at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Shortall said he was disappointed but the debate will go on.

Not surprisingly, the campaigns of LePage’s top opponents — Mitchell and Cutler — were critical of the decision.

“It is unfortunate that LePage continues to skip debates,” said David Loughran, spokesman for the Mitchell campaign. “Voters deserve the opportunity to compare Libby’s plans with LePage’s plans.”

Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager, called LePage’s decision “mystifying” and “a complete insult to the people of Maine” because it’s “a very important debate.”

“It’s one of the last official debates of this campaign, the only one broadcast on TV statewide, and the people of Maine deserve to see the candidates,” O’Meara said. “It begs the question: What is Paul LePage afraid of? The other candidates, including Paul, agreed to this debate many months ago. This is part of the process; this is what you sign up for.”

LePage has had a sometimes-tense relationship with MPBN during the campaign.

Last month, he said he was “about ready to punch” MPBN reporter A.J. Higgins, who had questioned the candidate during a heated news conference. His campaign later said the remark was a joke.

At another press conference, in response to MPBN reporter Josie Huang’s questions about his children’s college tuition, LePage told her to “stop the bull—-.”

Skipping debates is nothing new in this gubernatorial race. During the summer, LePage bowed out of several, as did Mitchell, who refused to debate Cutler and LePage at forums unless Moody and Scott were invited.