After a week of indecision and controversy about whether he would participate in a series of scheduled debates, Gov. Paul LePage made it official Sunday. The Republican governor says he is in, with the first of five gubernatorial debates set to be held Oct. 8 in Portland.

Early last week, LePage said he did not want to share the stage with his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, after an outside group working to elect Michaud accused the governor in a TV ad of describing Social Security as a form of welfare. At that point, LePage said he might only debate independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

Next, Michaud’s campaign said the candidate would debate Cutler if LePage decided not to take part in the scheduled debates. LePage then said his participation would hinge on whether Michaud denounced the ad by the Maine Forward political action committee. Michaud refused to denounce the ad because he said the group’s claim is true.

The ad seizes on a June 25 statement from LePage’s office about a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The statement said income in the five other New England states appeared to grow faster than income in Maine because the report included in its definition of income “personal transfer receipts,” the term for how the government classifies benefits it administers, including Medicaid, Social Security, and tax-breaks and subsidies provided through the Affordable Care Act health exchanges.

“It doesn’t matter what liberals call these payments, it is welfare, pure and simple,” LePage said in the statement.

LePage has criticized the Portland Press Herald and Michaud for an “erroneous interpretation” of the statement.


On Sunday, LePage’s re-election campaign issued a news release saying the governor has decided to participate in the five scheduled debates. The debates will take place at locations across the state between Oct. 8 and Oct. 21, with the centerpiece being an Oct. 15 televised debate from the Augusta Civic Center.

“This decision has come after much reflection over the past week on the value in debating congressman Mike Michaud, who has continually been dishonest with the Maine people about Governor LePage’s stance on Social Security,” the news release said.

Political analysts said LePage’s campaign made the right decision. Not only will the governor be able to clarify his position on Social Security and welfare, his appearance at the debates will help him wipe away any confusion voters may have felt after he was unable to commit to an appearance, the analysts said.

“It sounded a little erratic,” Amy Fried, a professor of political science at the University of Maine, said Sunday, referring to the governor’s indecision about the debates. “Politically speaking, it wasn’t working.”

Ronald Schmidt Jr., an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said he was “a little surprised” by the governor’s change in attitude about the debates after LePage appeared “adamant” about not appearing on the same stage with Michaud.

“He was asking Michaud to be held accountable for ads that the Michaud campaign didn’t release,” Schmidt said. “It was kind of a strange position for his campaign to stake out.”


In a statement accompanying his campaign’s news release Sunday, LePage said:

“The Maine people deserve a leader as their governor, not a follower. It is a sad state of affairs that congressman Michael Michaud is failing to step up to the plate and be honest with the Maine people.

“While I hoped he would come around and tell the truth prior to the debates, it appears he does not have the character that I once thought he had,” the governor said. “As governor, I believe the Maine people deserve to hear real honest answers in the debates, while congressman Michael Michaud has proven he is unable to be honest with Mainers. I want to make sure they get the record straight prior to the election.”

Fried, the UMaine professor, said the governor may have been trying to use the Social Security controversy to portray Michaud as “being untruthful” – a strategy that LePage’s staff must have deemed ineffective. Fried said the strategy wasn’t working because Michaud “doesn’t have a record of being a liar.”

Schmidt said a debate will likely benefit Michaud, who doesn’t have as high a public profile as a sitting governor. On the other hand, a debate might help LePage, who will have the opportunity to clarify his position on Social Security.

A Michaud spokeswoman on Sunday referred to the controversy over the debates as a LePage “temper tantrum.”

“Congressman Michaud has always thought that the governor would debate once he got over his temper tantrum,” the spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, said in a written statement. “Now perhaps we can focus on important issues and stop the silly distractions about whether he will debate or not.”

Cutler spokeswoman Crystal Canney pointed out that there were 31 debates in the 2010 governor’s race between Cutler, LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell.

“Eliot is glad that the partisan circus over the debates appears to be over and that both party candidates will participate with him in the five scheduled debates,” Canney said in a written statement Sunday. “He is looking forward to debates about principles and issues important to Maine’s future … and not about name-calling and negative attacks, and he hopes people will watch the debates before they vote.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.