LEWISTON — At Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, the news that U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud is gay is simply a non-story.

Republicans, Democrats and independents who were at Simones’ on Monday had the same reaction: “What difference does it make?” asked Phil Sherwood, 75, of Turner, while eating lunch at the counter.

“You can’t help who you fall in love with,” interjected Patsy Morse, 48, of Lewiston.

The 105-year-old hot dog stand in downtown Lewiston is a popular campaign stop for politicians. Lewiston is the state’s second-largest population center, and about one-third of its residents are Franco-American, many of them Roman Catholic and conservative on social issues.

Michaud, who kicked off his campaign for governor in August at Lewiston’s Franco American Center, won Lewiston in each of the six races he won to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Last year, in his re-election run against Republican Kevin Raye, Michaud got 68 percent of the votes in Lewiston. At the same time, 53 percent of Lewiston voters rejected the ballot question that ultimately legalized same-sex marriage in Maine.

While some Lewiston residents had long suspected that Michaud, a lifelong bachelor, is gay, others were surprised by his announcement Monday.

“My God, I couldn’t believe it,” said Ed Couture, 73, who voted for independent Eliot Cutler for governor three years ago and said he probably will vote for Cutler again.

Couture said the news about Michaud’s sexual orientation won’t affect his opinion about Michaud but might hurt the candidate among some Catholics in next year’s election.

Michaud stops by Simones’ for lunch about once a month, said Linda Simones, who was working behind the counter.

“He’s a regular guy,” said Simones, a Republican. “We love him for who he is and always have.”

Her husband, Jimmy Simones, another Republican, said his customers aren’t talking about the issue much at all.

“Nobody is throwing their arms up in the air screaming and hollering,” he said.

It’s unclear if there’s any correlation between support for same-sex marriage and support for openly gay candidates for public office. If there is, Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign may face obstacles in the 2nd District, a 10-county territory with a largely rural, conservative population and communities like Lewiston, with concentrated populations of the Franco-American Catholics who have historically affected statewide elections.

Last year, Mainers voted to approve same-sex marriage, 53 percent to 47 percent. The campaign was managed by Matthew McTighe, who is now the manager of Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign.

During the same-sex marriage campaign, McTighe and other proponents frequently touted their outreach efforts in conservative areas of the state. Nonetheless, only two of the 10 counties in the 2nd District backed the proposal. Proponents made up ground in the 1st District, winning all but one of the six counties.

Bill Lidoux, 68, an independent voter in Lewiston, said attitudes about homosexuality are changing. Thirty years ago, he would have thought differently, he said, but now he sees a person’s sexual orientation as a non-issue.

“I have evolved,” he said. “I don’t see it as a lifestyle. It’s not a choice. It’s something that happens.”

Morse, a customer at Simones’, announced to her friends and family that she is a lesbian when she was 19 years old. She said Michaud might not benefit politically from his disclosure, but he will certainly benefit emotionally.

“If you are hiding, you are not being a true person,” she said. “By coming out and being honest, he can be happy now.”

She added, “He should never be ashamed. Ever.”

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @tombellportland

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