LePage's comments could sway Maine Senate special election

AUGUSTA — As controversy over Gov. Paul LePage’s comments during a recent campaign fundraiser in Belgrade rages, political attention is focused on next week’s special election for a Maine Senate seat in Sagadahoc County.

Christopher Cousins/Bangor Daily News

Pictured are some of the mailers circulated in the Senate District 19 special election scheduled for Tuesday, August 27, 2013. The candidates are Republican Paula Benoit, Democrat Eloise Vitelli and Green Independent Daniel Stromgren.

The race to replace Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, who resigned in July to head the Northeast region of the U.S. Small Business Association, pits Republican Paula Benoit of Phippsburg against Democrat Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic. Green Independent Daniel Stromgren of Topsham also appears on the ballot.

Benoit said Thursday that LePage’s alleged comment about President Barack Obama hating white people has been overhyped by the media and is distracting voters from more important issues such as jobs, taxes and economic development.

“[The LePage controversy] isn’t affecting this election from where I stand,” said Benoit. “I’m just meeting people and going door to door and talking about myself. I’m not talking about the governor. All I say is that he sees a light at the end of the tunnel; it’s just that his message gets distorted.”

Several GOP insiders, however, have told the BDN that there is grave concern within the party that the latest LePage controversy will tip the race toward the Democrat Vitelli, so no one will talk about the issue publicly before the election.

Neither the governor nor his staff will discuss LePage’s comments, which the governor denied making on Tuesday. When reached Thursday by the BDN, LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield again declined to discuss the fundraiser.

“As was previously reported I was not in attendance at that event to hear remarks,” wrote Littlefield in an email.

Democrats are seeking to make the Senate race a referendum on LePage, a strategy that appeared to work in the 2012 election when they regained control of the Maine Legislature after losing it in 2010 when LePage was elected governor.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett said the race is the Democrats’ to lose.

“For the Democrats, this is a critical race for them to win; it’s a seat that’s held by the Senate Democratic leader,” he said. “It would be marvelous for us to win it and it would be a great pickup. They’re trying to make this a referendum on Paul LePage to the extent that if they win this race, they can use it down the road.”

Campaign literature circulated in recent days — especially that paid for by the parties and their allies, which the candidates by law have no control over — confirms that Democrats are trying to link Benoit to LePage.

“The LePage way of doing things in Augusta just isn’t working,” reads a mailer paid for by the Maine Democratic Party. “Partisan politics and petty bickering are the LePage/Benoit way of doing things. … Gov. LePage wants Paula back in the Senate with her rubber stamp voting record.”

The other side of the same mailer focuses on Vitelli’s attributes, including that she “will stand up to Governor LePage’s attempts to cut funding for early childhood education.”

A separate mailer funded by the Vitelli campaign makes no mention of LePage or Benoit.

A mailer from the Maine Republican Party on Benoit’s behalf focuses on her support of small businesses and opposition to tax increases. There is no mention of LePage.

“Paula Benoit has a plan: Get government out of the way and let our small businesses create jobs for Maine families,” reads the mailer.

The closest Benoit has come to distancing herself from LePage was in a mailer from her campaign that characterized her as “a strong independent voice who will be ready on day one.”

Nearly $126,000 has been spent on the campaign by independent groups. Of that, about $76,000 has benefited Vitelli versus about $50,000 for Benoit, according to the Maine Ethics Commission’s website on Thursday afternoon.

Benoit, who said she told the Republican Party before becoming a candidate that she would drop out if they went negative, said Thursday that while she is a supporter of many of LePage’s initiatives, her actions as a senator are her own.

“I’m an independent thinker and I’m my own person,” she said. “I have my own opinions on things and I do what’s best for my county and the state as a whole. It’s amazing to me that they’re saying I’m a puppet for [LePage]. I haven’t even had a conversation with him about this race.”

Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said if that’s true, Benoit would be in a class of her own among legislative Republicans, who earlier this year sustained 78 of 83 LePage vetoes.

“Everyone in the Republican Party right now is tied to LePage somehow,” said Grant. “Most of the Republicans in the Legislature are lockstep with the governor, regardless of what they say. I think that will end up definitely driving away some middle-of-the-road voters and motivating some Democrats to come out and vote.”

Bennett said that’s not how Maine voters typically make their decisions.

“Riding coattails, or whatever the reverse is, usually doesn’t work in Maine,” he said. “I think this election is really about a choice between these two candidates.”

Vitelli said she is unsure what effect LePage will have on the election.

“This election will turn on who is most vested in showing up at the polls on Tuesday and who has already voted,” said Vitelli. “It’s up to [Benoit] to try to distinguish herself from the governor and convince voters that she would be a more independent voice.”

The Senate seat, which represents all of Sagadahoc County and the town of Dresden in Lincoln County, is seen as one that could go either way in any election, despite the fact that Democrats now hold all of the county’s legislative districts. Before Goodall’s 2008 victory over Benoit by 162 votes, earlier versions of the Sagadahoc County district were represented by Republicans in the Senate dating back decades.

Goodall retained the seat in 2010 against political newcomer David Kaler of Bath by a margin of 1,263 votes with a total of nearly 18,000 ballots cast. He easily won against Jeffrey Pierce of Dresden in 2012. Goodall served as Senate majority leader from January until he resigned last month to take a presidentially appointed post with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“Sagadahoc County is an area that has been very difficult for Democrats to win the Senate seat,” said Grant of the Maine Democratic Party. “Our most recent polling is several weeks old, but it does look like a close race.”

Green Independent Party candidate Stromgren adds a wild card to the race. Voter turnout in special elections tends to fall short of general elections, elevating the possibility that Stromgren, a progressive, could siphon key votes from Vitelli.

“I’m not here to steal votes. I’m here to get my own votes,” he said Thursday. “My Republican opponent was pretty honest last night [at a candidates’ forum in Richmond]. I will be fair to her and say she’s not Gov. LePage and I don’t believe that she conducted herself like he does when she served previously. But she did work for the administration and does claim the governor as a friend. … I think she’s straddling both sides of the aisle and I think it will affect this race.”

The special election takes place Tuesday, Aug. 27.

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Mike Lachance's picture

Isn't it just so convenient

Isn't it just so convenient the timing of all this..... publish a big story about an alleged quote even if unsourced and debatable, blow it up nice and big, keep hammering the story until it saturates the news... then...
BAM! Publish a big story about how "all the LePage" quotes are going to sway the upcoming election. If I recall, the papers did this exact same thing right before the last election. No coincidence.


Media bias

This particular event being the exception most of the media coverage the governor has received has consisted of him standing in front of a microphone or a group of people spouting dumb stuff. I don't think it is media bias when they report what he says. The fact that it sounds dumb when someone repeats it is not the fault of the media. The problem here is that this governor hates transparency and would be more than happy to do everything behind closed doors and in secret. Unfortunately for him, that is not the way the American government is supposed to operate. In fact the more secrecy and backroom deals there are the more corrupt and inefficient is the government we end up with. Pretty much what is going on in Maine now. It is not a media problem it is a transparency problem.

Right after Lepage won the

Right after Lepage won the election in 2010, he spoke at a Chamber of Commerce event.
I heard him say the newspapers were going to come after him, because of what he was going try to get accomplished. Boy was he right, he must be doing something good, because the newspapers in Maine have been non stop hammering him. The trash journalism has been something else.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Makes me wonder of the LePage

Makes me wonder of the LePage story was strategically published.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I would tend to believe that.............

I would tend to believe that having someone record every word the Governor says won't be happening. We already know how upset the Governor seems to get when evidential cameras are running at his functions. We can ill afford another tissy-fit by his honor.
One aspect of this squabble, is the fact that we do have evidence, on tape, of the Governor flatly denying the allegation. Now if we could just get one or both Republicans who overheard the comment to come forward, and acknowledge that the statement was indeed made. Where would that put Paul LePage. In this case, we would not just have a Chief Executive who feels we have a racist President. We would have a Governor proven to lie to cover his actions, and or statements.
I don't see how any Republican candidate could claim to be an individual thinker. LePage has on more than one occasion, insisted the he, the Chief Executive runs the State. To hear him put it, we have no need for law makers, representatives etc. I truly wish there actually was someone, anyone who would actually stand up to LePage and put him in his place. As it stands now, he's a Tea Partier, no one expecting to run for anything messes with a Tea Partier, hence they will be lambasted by a Tea Party candidate. I would be to embarrassed to admit defeat to a Tea-bag. I'd be even more embarrassed to admit that I am one...........

Bob White's picture

Well Frank lets cross that

Well Frank lets cross that bridge to fantasy land when we get there.( although you never know.) I'm guessing we were able to forgive President Clinton and Obama for lying so I think we could probably survive that.

Bob White's picture

The left leaning media can

The left leaning media can only hope that his comments play a factor. That should be the headline for this article.

Steve Bell's picture

Recorder for Gov. LePage

Clearly, in order to do away with these controversies, everything that Gov. LePage says in public should be recorded. Then a simple play back would settle things.

And a six second delay like the tv censors use would be a good idea too.

 's picture

More shadowy unnamed GOP sources?

Just who are these characters who have plenty to say but are never identified? Are we supposed to take the biased reporters word for it that they,in fact, exist?

RONALD RIML's picture

Sometimes good - sometimes bad.....

For example, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt - who we've found out was the secret informant known as 'Deep Throat' who provided information concerning the involvement of the Nixon Administration in the Watergate Scandel.

Then recall the leak of the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame; allegedly done to punish her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson who had criticized the Bush Administration regarding statements made concerning 'Yellowcake'. VP Cheney's advisor - L.Lewis Libby was eventually convicted of obstructing justice, perjury, and making false statements.

One Reporter - Judith Miller, was jailed for 'Contempt of Court' for failing to name sources to a Grand Jury.

And your training, background, research and sources for 'Biased Reporters?'


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