AUGUSTA — As the owner of a vacuum-cleaner shop, Dale Hatch knows about dirt. And he said that’s just what Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s lashing out at reporters asking questions about his taxes was all about.
“As near as I can tell, this is just another attempt for them to dig up dirt on one of the gubernatorial candidates,” Hatch said in his downtown shop Tuesday. “We don’t have clean politics anymore. It’s all a matter of mud-slinging.”
Those who know him say it was vintage LePage. And Maine politics-watchers said the outburst would actually play well with his supporters.
In the State Office Building’s press area to talk about his job-creation plan Monday, LePage was pummeled with questions about property tax exemptions on his wife’s homes in Florida and Maine. He became angry, accused reporters of acting like snoops from the National Enquirer and stormed out. The scene was replayed repeatedly on TV news and prominent in Maine newspapers.
An hour later, he uttered a barnyard epithet when asked again about the tax issues in Portland. After cooling down, he circled back and offered a full accounting to The Associated Press, and attempted to clear the air by saying he’s returning his $191 Maine exemption and won’t accept any future ones in either state.
“I don’t think his performance surprised many people who’ve seen him over the years. Because he says what he thinks and he doesn’t filter himself,” said Sandy Maisel, Colby College political science professor. “To me that was not a gubernatorial performance.”
Mark Brewer, political science professor from the University of Maine, said he expected that the video showing LePage losing his cool would be replayed by those trying to score political points. His prediction became true before Tuesday ended.
An e-mail circulated by the Maine Democratic Party included links to video footage of LePage telling a reporter, “Let’s stop the bull---- and let’s answer the questions the way they should be answered.” He later apologized for his language.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell launched new TV ads in which she personally criticizes LePage for what she sees as his weak stand on environmental protection. Three independents — Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott — are also in the race to fill the open governor’s seat. Two-term Democrat John Baldacci is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
LePage, a favorite of Maine’s tea party contingent and general manager for a discount department store chain, has called for a smaller, more business-friendly government and tax cuts.
Brewer said LePage’s outburst won’t matter to his core constituency, because a fair number of them are distrustful of the mainstream media anyway.
“They are going to be some who say, ‘Good for him. Good for him for lashing out at the biased media,’” Brewer said.
Maisel also said LePage’s outburst probably won’t hurt him with his core constituency, but he thinks those on the fence could back away because of the way he handled himself.
Augusta voter Fritz Spencer said he thinks Monday’s events amounted to little more than “a feeding frenzy by the press,” but will nonetheless hurt the candidate.
“The press lives by controversy,” he said.