AUGUSTA — Touting his actions over his words, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he would seek a second term.
Before a raucous crowd of supporters at a local community center, LePage hit on the highlights of his past three years in office, including his focus on eliminating domestic violence, prosecuting welfare cheats and reducing state government.
"If you want to use the state for your personal gain, I'm not your guy," LePage said.
He took a not-so-veiled shot at his two best-known opponents, independent Eliot Cutler and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. Both men have extensive backgrounds working in the nation's capitol.
"If you believe our kids and Maine's future prosperity is too important to leave to Washington-trained politicians, I ask you to stand with me," LePage said.
Three speakers took the lectern before LePage to tout his achievements in what would be a display of cross-partisan support for LePage.
“I never expected to be standing in front of you today, but I am honored to be, because I feel like I am here standing up against domestic violence, as we all should," Theresa Dempsey said, noting that she and her children are survivors of domestic violence. "Paul LePage has helped and touched my family, as well as many others, because of his support of domestic-violence prevention."
LePage later said he would work to "eradicate" domestic violence. His efforts at prevention, awareness and law reforms have been a hallmark of his first term in office.
Cyndy Robbins, a Poland Spring businesswoman, said she was a registered Democrat and had contributed to Michaud's last campaign for Congress but was now solidly behind LePage.
"Paul left a big position at Marden's to become the lowest-paid governor in America and serve the people of Maine — I'm glad he did," Robbins said. "From cutting red tape to regulation reform to lowering taxes to just changing the culture of how government now treats business, Paul LePage is working for Maine."
It was a theme that was echoed throughout the course of the event — and one that's bound to be a campaign talking point.
LePage went back to some of his original campaign standards, including a rhyme he uses to explain how he pulled himself from domestic violence and poverty as a child.
"If it is to be, it's up to me," LePage said to a round of applause.
The audience in the intimate gym of the Buker Community Center, not far from the Blaine House, was estimated by campaign staff to be approaching 650, but news reporters in attendance estimated the group to be between 350 and 450.
"I gave money back with the largest tax cut in Maine history — incentivizing jobs and cutting taxes up," LePage said. "When Maine’s poorest workers file their taxes, they’ll see a virtual elimination of income tax because it’s important to give a hand up — not just a handout."
Another theme that emerged Tuesday was one that gets at the various controversial statements LePage has made over his first three years in office.
"His actions speak louder than any words," Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, told the crowd.
LePage opened his speech with a similar statement in French saying, "Les actes sont plus éloquents que les paroles."
Proud of his Franco-American heritage, LePage often uses a French line or two in his speeches, and is quick to remind Mainers that French was his first language.
Bennett also praised LePage's efforts to see the state pay off more than $184 million in debt it owed hospitals for past-due Medicaid payments.
"He didn’t complain; he fixed it," Bennett said. "He paid it back, all of it — and he did it without raising taxes."
LePage also leaned on the idea that he is a businessman first and not a politician and touted a lower unemployment rate than when he took office.
He said the difference in the rate meant more than 7,000 jobs had been created since he took office.
"I came to the governor's office from a background in business," LePage said. "I'm not a smooth-talking politician. With reforms, we have created jobs — thousands of jobs."
At least one supporter in the audience agreed. A bumper sticker plastered on her back read: "Better LePage with his foot in his mouth than a slick politician with his hand in my pocket."
But LePage's opponents were quick to note what they saw as his serious shortcomings, including LePage's ability to be a firebrand who can alienate and offend.
"Gov. LePage is a skilled politician who can excite his tea party base, but we know that Mike is the strongest candidate in this race and momentum for his campaign continues to build," Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said. "Maine voters are ready for a governor they can be proud of."
Cutler, the independent challenger, said LePage had some good ideas.
"Some of the things he wanted to do made sense, but he got in his own way and couldn't get them done," Cutler said.
Cutler was critical of the semi-private and staged nature of LePage's announcement Tuesday and its timing on Election Day.
While media were invited, other guests were required to have tickets to enter the venue. All of the speeches, including LePage's, went off without distraction.
LePage did not take questions from reporters following the event. His handlers even chastised reporters who attempted to approach him following the speech as he mingled with supporters.
"He's hiding behind other news, and he's hiding behind a wall of rules that's preventing anybody who wants to go there to go, and he's preventing anybody who wants to ask him a question from asking him a question," Cutler said.
He attacked LePage's theme that "actions speak louder than words."
"What speaks louder than both actions and words are results," Cutler said. "Results and performance, and when you test Paul LePage against both results and performance, this is a failed administration. We are still 50th in the Forbes ranking, our economy is running behind every other state in New England and behind the national average."