BANGOR, Maine (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage is taking Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell to task for posing with a photo that labeled former President George Bush an "international terrorist."
At a debate Monday night in Bangor, Mitchell said a governor must be respectful of the president, a reference to a video showing LePage telling a group of fishermen last month that if elected he would tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell."
In response, LePage shot back that he had seen a photo of Mitchell holding a photo of Bush labeling him a terrorist. Mitchell first denied knowing what LePage was talking about, but afterward the LePage campaign produced a photo of a laughing Mitchell holding a framed document or letter with a small attached photo of Bush bracketed by the words "international terrorist."
Mitchell later apologized, saying she regretted posing with the photo and "the possible disrespect it may show to the Office of the President."
The Maine Republican Party was given the photo by a woman who was at the party where the photo was taken and later saw it posted on Facebook, said GOP spokesman Lance Dutson. The woman, who does not want to be publicly identified, mailed prints to the GOP because she thought Mitchell was being hypocritical in her criticism of LePage's earlier comments, Dutson said.
Last month in Brooksville, LePage told a group of fishermen if he's elected 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 later apologized for his choice of words, but didn't back down from his criticism of the administration.
In criticizing LePage's words, Mitchell took his comments out of context by not mentioning that they came during a forum with frustrated fishermen who were fearful over losing their livelihoods due to federal regulations, GOP officials said.
"Her lecturing was hypocritical, her denial was untruthful and her actions captured in this photo show her to be as extreme as it gets," said Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party.
Democratic officials said the photo of Mitchell was taken within the past year during a lighthearted moment in a private home.
Arden Manning, manager of the Maine Democrats' coordinated campaign, said LePage's criticism of Mitchell was "beyond desperate" and that the candidate was "digging through old photos and taking them completely out of context."
Recent polls show LePage and Mitchell running neck and neck in the race. Three independent candidates are also on the ballot.