To the delight of his loyal fans and dismay of his equally fierce critics, former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage will announce his bid to unseat Maine’s incumbent Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday during a rally at the Augusta Civic Center.

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, shown in 2018, will officially launch his campaign Wednesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

LePage’s longtime campaign media consultant, Brent Littlefield, has pitched a kinder, gentler LePage and says the former governor in recent months has been on a statewide listening tour, meeting with small groups and hearing them out, largely in private settings or in visits to fairs and festivals over the summer.

But LePage is likely to have a hard time keeping the door closed on his political past. During his eight years in Blaine House, LePage became one of Maine’s most colorful and controversial governors. He and Mills, who served as the state’s attorney general during his tenure, were frequently at sharp odds – even to the point of LePage hiring private attorneys to represent his office in lawsuits against the federal government when Mills refused to do so.

Mark Brewer, professor and political science department chair at the University of Maine, said LePage may try to offer a new persona but most Mainers will remember his litany of controversial statements.

“I suppose it is possible,” Brewer said. “I would be surprised if, at this stage in his life, he can change how he comports himself and I can’t imagine anybody who was an adult and present and even remotely paying attention to politics could forget. Paul LePage is not a forgettable person.”

Brewer said LePage’s ardent supporters are enamored with the former firebrand governor. If LePage is able to convince moderate Republicans he can behave himself and play nice with others, he could broker a legitimate challenge to Mills, Brewer said.

No recent two-term governor has managed to win back the office after being out for four years. The last to try was former Gov. Joe Brennan, a Portland Democrat, who finished his second term in 1986. Brennan then served two terms in the U.S. House before trying to unsuccessfully reclaim the governor’s office in 1990.

LePage’s campaign so far has steered clear of some of the most divisive politics around the COVID-19 pandemic, not publicly aligning with anti-vaccination and anti-masking factions among Maine Republicans in the Legislature. Littlefield said LePage has been fully vaccinated, understands the science, believes it was the right medical decision based on his doctor’s advice and is telling others to make the decision with their doctors.

The campaign has also not touted LePage’s support for former President Trump in 2016, when Trump made five campaign stops in Maine. LePage, who famously bragged he was “Trump before Trump,” appeared at four of them.

“This is not a presidential election, not an election for the governor of New England, or any other election,” Littlefield said. “This is an election for the governor of Maine. We intend to keep it about that and the issues and concerns of Maine people.”

LePage has declined interviews with the Portland Press Herald and his campaign is still making its staffing decisions, according to Littlefield.

After leaving office in 2019, LePage sent mixed signals about a return, promising at times to walk away. Soon after leaving office, he said he would return to challenge Mills if she didn’t perform to his expectations.

LePage is currently renting a home in Edgecomb, where he has registered to vote and registered a vehicle he posted about on Facebook in 2019. But the former governor has yet to set down permanent roots by buying a home here.

“He’s Paul LePage,” Littlefield said. “He’s looking for a good deal.”

LePage and his wife, Ann LePage, have split their time between Maine and Florida, where the couple owns a home in Ormand Beach. Littlefield said LePage has biked and golfed a lot and did “truly retire.”

LePage has also spent time “rethinking some things,” Littlefield said.

Not owning property here at this point in the campaign is unlikely to be much of a hinderance to LePage, Brewer said. But, as the race continues, and if it becomes close, that could be a factor for some voters.

“I think his base doesn’t care, but that could be a factor for a small percentage of voters,” Brewer said.

 


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