“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we are one of the same cloth,” said LePage, whose two terms in office were punctuated by brash behavior and frequently offensive comments.
Now, as LePage is running for a third term after a brief retirement to Florida, he rarely talks about Trump in public, and his advisers say LePage’s hiatus from politics changed him. He’s eager to show he’s smoothed over some of his own rough edges, though flashes of his fiery personality broke through recently at an event at a riverfront boatyard in Yarmouth, where he pledged to take on Democratic “elitists.”
“I came from the streets. I was a fighter all my life,” LePage told workers. “I had to scrimp and save to eat and survive. I am a fighter.”
As LePage seeks to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and become the longest-serving governor in Maine history, he is banking on an approach familiar to other Republican candidates in liberal- and moderate-leaning states who are trying not to alienate swing voters they would need to win a general election. LePage’s efforts at putting distancing from Trump are particularly notable given LePage once invited comparisons to Trump — and made them himself.
The race is shaping up to be among a dozen or so competitive contests for governor this election year. The way in which the campaign plays out with voters weary of political ugliness may be a harbinger for Trump’s White House aspirations in 2024.
LePage and Mills’ adversarial relationship goes back years.
When LePage left office in 2019, prevented from seeking a third consecutive term by the Maine Constitution, he declared he was decamping for Florida, where the taxes were lower, and leaving politics behind.
He didn’t stay away long. Soon, he was headed back to Maine for what supporters described as “LePage 2.0.”
LePage served as Trump’s honorary state chairman and once sought a job in his administration, but he now won’t say whether he would vote for Trump for president if Trump runs again in 2024.
The former governor made no reference to Trump while touring Yankee Marina & Boatyard, even though Trump remains popular in rural Maine, where he twice won an electoral vote while losing the statewide vote.
LePage largely tries to steer clear of Trump’s observations of the 2020 election. LePage says that Biden is president but declines to address whether he thinks the election was legitimate. LePage also avoids the issue of abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.