AUGUSTA — News broke early Monday that six-term congressman and the Democrats’ 2014 candidate for governor, Mike Michaud, is gay, but many insiders said they expected the revelation to have little effect on the gubernatorial race.

Michaud became only the seventh sitting member of the U.S. House to openly identify as gay or bisexual, and one of only a handful of 2014 gubernatorial candidates to have come out.

But it remains to be seen whether his newly revealed sexual orientation will become a campaign issue in a state that seems to have swung — mostly — to favoring gay rights, culminating in asuccessful referendum to legalize gay marriage in 2012.

That effort followed a 2009 people ’s veto of a law legalizing gay marriage passed by the Legislature. After two hard-fought and expensive campaigns in the span of three years, there may be some voter fatigue over identity politics.

Michaud said he was coming out in an attempt to sidestep a “whisper campaign” to out him, but said his sexuality has little to do with his public service. He said he believes Mainers will judge him by his character and values, not his sexuality.

“[This] may seem like a big announcement to some people,” he wrote in an OpEd. “For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

His opponents in the 2014 gubernatorial election, incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, didn’t have much to say about Michaud’s coming out. They seemed to downplay the issue of the Democrat’s sexual orientation as much as Michaud himself.

Cutler issued a one-sentence statement: “This is an entirely personal matter and has no bearing whatsoever on a candidate’s qualifications to be governor,” he wrote.

LePage’s camp — which is set to kick into high-gear with an official campaign kickoff Tuesday — had even less to say. When asked for comment, the governor’s top political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said, “Here’s my comment,” then went silent. A few seconds passed. “Did you get that? My phone didn’t cut out,” he said.

When pressed to clarify, Littlefield said, “I’m not even going to give a ‘no comment.’”

Cutler has supported marriage equality and has been outspoken in his support of the LGBT cause. In 2009, LePage said he opposed gay marriage, but favored civil unions that included the same legal rights as marriage.

With the election a year away, polls have showed Michaud and LePage within arms reach of each other, with Cutler trailing behind. Early analyses of the race has focused on the moderate and center-left votes up for grabs between Michaud — a Democrat, but hardly a progressive — and Cutler, a left-leaning moderate. LePage is expected to easily secure the conservative vote.

Ron Schmidt, a professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said Michaud’s announcement alone was not likely to be a game-changer. But, he said, it wouldn’t take much to affect the outcome in a tight three-way race.

A 2012 Gallup poll indicated that a majority of both major parties said they could support a well-qualified, openly gay presidential candidate, though more Democrats, at 82 percent, took that position than Republicans, at 56 percent. In Maine, marriage equality won the support of 52.5 percent of voters in 2012.

“I think for voters in general, the question of gay equality is not so much just settled as it is so settled that people are probably tired of talking about it,” he said. But, “left-of-center and centrist votes are being drawn between two candidates. In a situation like that, even if this means just a couple of bumps for Michaud, from progressives, or against him from people opposed to gay equality, it could prove to be significant.”

Dan Demeritt, a political consultant who worked on LePage’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and was later the governor’s press secretary, said that coming out could open up a line of support to the large block of progressives in southern Maine, who may have initially been lukewarm on Michaud, who is a member of the moderate Congressional “Blue Dog Democrats.”

The strongest support for gay marriage in 2012 came from southern Maine, and Demeritt, who worked to pass the 2012 gay marriage law in Maine, said Michaud may have just tapped into that already energized network.

Ethan Strimling, who is on the board of directors Equality Maine, the largest gay-rights advocacy group in the state, said Monday that his group may throw “its full political weight” behind Michaud. That would mean bodies on the ground and, potentially, campaign contributions.

“I think it adds excitement, energy,” Demeritt said. “He’ll be, potentially the first openly gay governor in the country’s history, so that absolutely gives them some symbolism to rally behind.”

Michaud may also have just lined up more youth support. Young voters are more likely to be driven to the polls by social-justice issues, such as the idea of electing the first openly gay governor, than by Michaud’s historic focus on veterans’ issues, trade and workers’ rights.

It’s also unlikely that Michaud’s announcement would cost him many votes. So-called “values voters” who would oppose him for being gay were likely not in his camp anyway, thanks to his stances in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.


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