PORTLAND (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage told a group of fishermen at a GOP forum that he won't be afraid to tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell."
LePage, a favorite of tea partiers, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he regretted the words he chose Sunday in the small coastal town of Brooksville but that he wasn't backing down in his criticism of the administration for what he describes as free-spending, antibusiness policies.
A Democratic Party official said it showed LePage is hotheaded and ill-suited to govern.
LePage was responding to a question when he made the remark about Obama, which was captured by a Democratic Party aide who was videotaping the event.
"As your governor, you're going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying 'Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell,'" LePage said to applause.
LePage, who is mayor of Waterville but new to statewide politics, declined to offer an outright apology. He also continued to take aim at the Obama administration, saying federal spending is driving up the national debt and "taking us to a place where my children and my grandchildren will never come back."
Earlier this month, LePage came under fire for uttering a barnyard epithet at a news conference in Portland when he was asked about property tax breaks on his wife's homes in Florida and Maine.
"Am I politically correct all the time? No. Maybe it's time to have people say bluntly what's going on," LePage said Wednesday. "The fact of the matter is that I haven't learned how to speak out of both sides of my mouth yet."
Recent polls have shown LePage leading a five-way race for governor, but a new poll released Wednesday put him about even with Democrat Libby Mitchell.
Arden Manning, manager of the Maine Democrats' coordinated campaign, said the video provides some insight into how a LePage administration might govern.
"If he's reacting this way to the president of the United States, think about what his response would be to a local legislator or a constituent who disagreed with him," Manning said. "His comments are offensive. It just shows that LePage is not ready to lead."
LePage's remark was part of a longer discussion of issues at the fishermen's forum. Dennis Blodgett, the town's GOP committee chairman, said much of the discussion focused on "too many federal regulations being crammed down our throats."
"Whether you like it or not, he gives you an answer," said Darrell Fowler, a Brooksville selectman and a Republican. "He doesn't beat around the bush."
Eliot Cutler, one of three independent candidates in the race, said LePage's remark about Obama, coupled with his quip during a debate that he'd ask the president "to get out of my state" rather than ask for federal help, demonstrate that LePage is a "crude bully." Obama and his family visited Acadia National Park in July.
"I don't care whether the president of the United States is Barack Obama or George Bush or anybody else," Cutler said. "You don't tell them to 'go to hell.' You don't tell them to 'get out of my state.'"
Associated Press reporter Glenn Adams in Augusta contributed to this story.