AUGUSTA — Senate President Mike Thibodeau said Monday that he is withdrawing from Maine’s Republican gubernatorial primary so he can focus on his legislative leadership position and his business.

Thibodeau’s withdrawal leaves four Republicans competing for their party’s nomination this June to succeed Gov. Paul LePage in the Blaine House.

In a statement posted on his campaign’s website and Facebook page, Thibodeau said “there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to run a business, run the State Senate, have a quality family life, and run for governor.”

The Winterport businessman said conforming Maine’s tax code to the federal income tax cuts passed by Congress last year – a partisan and potentially contentious issue – “will take a tremendous amount of work in the coming weeks and months.”

“Therefore, I have decided to withdraw from the Republican primary for governor,” Thibodeau said of his five-month-old campaign. “I am truly disappointed to have to make this decision, but I believe in my heart it is the right thing to do. I want to thank my family, friends and supporters across this state. I know many of them will be disappointed as well.”

“I got into this race because I wanted to make Maine a better place for our citizens to live and work, and I have decided to withdraw from this race for the same exact reason,” Thibodeau continued. “There is much work to be done, and I look forward to continuing the fight for strong communities and a growing economy.”

Thibodeau declined a request for an interview Monday.

Thibodeau’s departure will undoubtedly shake up the Republican primary to be held June 12. The other candidates seeking the party’s nomination for governor are Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of China and businessman Shawn Moody of Gorham.

The owner of a snow shovel manufacturing business and a heavy equipment dealership, Thibodeau is state government’s second-highest-ranking Republican leader after LePage.

Thibodeau and LePage have clashed repeatedly in recent years over his attempts to build consensus in the closely divided Maine Senate, efforts that often led to the governor getting less than he desired. Thibodeau’s pragmatic approach to running the Senate has won him respect from both sides of the aisle in Augusta and even prompted some to view him as a moderate Republican, although he remained a stalwart conservative in his personal politics.

Thibodeau reported raising a respectable $100,764 between his October campaign launch and Dec. 31. But Moody had raised $301,705 before year’s end ($150,000 of which came from his own pockets) and Mayhew raised $197,838, according to the most recent campaign finance filings. Fredette reported raising $14,435 as of year’s end, while Mason is running a publicly financed campaign as part of the Maine Clean Elections system.

Former Senate President Kevin Raye, a moderate Republican from Perry who served for years alongside Thibodeau, said his withdrawal from the race is “a loss for our state.”

“Mike Thibodeau is a good & decent man who has worked to solve problems & has led with respect, civility & a constructive approach,” Raye said on Twitter. “With his temperament & breadth of experience, he would have made Maine proud as Governor.”

Thibodeau’s turbulent relationship with LePage could have helped during the November general election but might have hurt him among the more conservative Republicans who typically participate in party primaries. And the four remaining candidates all have close ties to LePage, at some level.

Mayhew served as LePage’s health and human services commissioner and helped to carry out the governor’s agenda on issues such as welfare reform and reducing MaineCare rolls. As House minority leader, Fredette has led a conservative Republican caucus much more closely aligned with LePage than with Thibodeau and the more moderate Senate Republican caucus. Moody, meanwhile, hired LePage’s political consultant and his daughter, Lauren, soon after switching from independent to Republican and launching his second gubernatorial bid.

The Maine Democratic Party seized on Thibodeau’s withdrawal to take a swipe at the remaining candidates.

“With Thibodeau’s exit, the Republican primary field for governor moves even further to the right, as Shawn Moody, Mary Mayhew, Ken Fredette, and Garrett Mason work hard to outcompete one another for who can be the most like Paul LePage and who will best be another four years of his failed and incompetent Administration,” Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement. “The correct answer? All of them – and that’s the last thing Maine needs.”

Thibodeau is prevented by term limits from running again for his Senate seat. In a statement, Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas praised Thibodeau for his two terms as Senate president and his reasons for bowing out of the gubernatorial race.

“We thank him for his continued service and his dedication to working to improve Maine’s economy until his last day in office,” Kouzounas said. “The spirit shown by Senator Thibodeau today represents the best Maine Republicans have to offer. Putting top priorities first, and placing the freedom and prosperity of our people ahead of ourselves.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for an even more crowded primary season, with seven gubernatorial candidates currently qualifying for the ballot. Nominees in both parties will be selected for the first time using the ranked-choice voting system – which allows voters to rank candidates in their order of preference – at the same time as they are deciding whether to continue using the process in future elections.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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