Stage presence: The ability to command an audience with impressive style or manner.

Any guesses which candidate for governor has it?

It’s the incumbent, Paul LePage, who is adept at grabbing a spotlight, directing attention and framing the debate, all while claiming that he’s not a politician.

Look at the news this week. While recording a TV interview with WMTW reporter Paul Merrill, LePage made a seemingly off-hand remark about the upcoming debates, saying he didn’t want to share a stage with Democrat Mike Michaud because Michaud refuses to denounce an independent ad that charges LePage with referring to Medicare and Social Security as “welfare.”

The LePage campaign backed up the remark with a written statement saying the governor is “considering” skipping the six scheduled debates if they involve Michaud.

That led to news conferences Tuesday by both Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, with both candidates saying they fully intend to show up for the debates they already said they’d show up for – guaranteeing the governor another day of headlines that don’t address criticism of his style of leadership or controversial policy choices.


This may have just been a case of the governor accidentally shooting his mouth off and getting lucky, but if that’s what happened he must be the luckiest guy in Maine, because he does this kind of stuff all the time.

Unpack the governor’s position for a minute. It’s absurd.

He said he would not share the stage with someone responsible for a negative attack? That’s a high standard for “Gov. Kiss-my-butt.”

He said he would not debate someone who made a false charge? Isn’t this the guy who has said that Maine schools are the worst in the nation, state workers are corrupt and the wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle has a little motor in it that makes the blades go around?

And Michaud’s charge? It’s true. LePage lumped Medicare and Social Security in with other federal transfer payments in a news release in which he was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t matter what liberals call these payments, it is welfare, pure and simple.”

He can say that is not what he meant – and he has said that – but he can’t say that’s not what he said, because he did say it.


But so what? The governor had his opponents responding to an issue of campaign process instead of attacking him on a record filled with controversy. Instead of talking to the media about the mismanagement of Riverview Psychiatric Center, they were pledging to show up for debates.

There were more cameras and reporters at these news conferences than there were when Michaud presented his health care program last week, or when Cutler touted his record on environmental issues.

Blame us in the media if you want, but it’s up to one of the other candidates to put the governor on the defense for a change. The challenge falls naturally to Michaud, who is leading in the polls and who poses the biggest threat to LePage’s re-election.

For instance, LePage has been talking about what he calls “welfare reform” for more than a year. He makes the case that the benefits are too easy to get, cost taxpayers too much and are sometimes used for purposes other than those for which they were intended. His response is to cut programs.

What he doesn’t say is what he is doing to fight poverty. He acts as if cutting benefits makes the problems disappear. Instead, homelessness and hunger are on the rise.

It’s not that Michaud doesn’t have an anti-poverty program. He does.


He supports raising the minimum wage, expanding MaineCare and making the earned income tax credit for the working poor fully refundable. These are all programs with a proven record of rewarding work, giving people a hand to pull themselves out of poverty and helping them stay there.

What Michaud doesn’t have is a way of talking about it that succinctly exposes the weakness of LePage’s policies and promotes the strength of his plans, not just on economic grounds but also on moral ones.

At his news conference Tuesday, Michaud responded to a LePage attack by repeatedly saying that he did not support giving “welfare to illegal immigrants.” But he never said who should be getting help from the state and why.

It’s possible that the public and the media will get sick of the governor’s attempts to misdirect attention. But no one should be counting on that to happen in the next six weeks.

Right now, only one candidate has the ability to grab the spotlight, and he seems to be able to do it whenever he wants.


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