Former Gov. Paul LePage said he hopes Tom Saviello enters the gubernatorial race.

Former Gov. Paul LePage recently greeted shoppers outside the Walmart in Auburn while he collected money for the Salvation Army. Steve Collins/ Sun Journal

“Oh, boy. I’d love it,” LePage said. “Bring it on.”

Saviello said Monday, though, that “he’s going to have to wait.”

Saviello said he’s focused on legal issues surrounding the proposed corridor to bring Quebec hydropower to New England and keeping his possible entry into the governor’s race in “a holding pattern” for now.

LePage is the sole Republican angling to unseat first-term Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who took his place after term limits forced LePage to move out of the Blaine House in 2018.

Both times LePage won election, in 2010 and 2014, he emerged victorious in three-way races that some say cut into slight statewide advantage that Democrats possess. In those races, independent Eliot Cutler snatched a lot of middle-of-the-road votes.

It isn’t clear whether the often-combative LePage can muster enough support to win a race that doesn’t include a major independent challenger — a role that Saviello would fill.

After winning elected offices at various times as a Democrat, a Republican and as an independent, Saviello is clearly not a party loyalist and might well pull votes from across the political spectrum if he opts to get into the 2022 gubernatorial contest.

Tom Saviello speaks at a February 2020 rally in Augusta after a group opposed to CMP’s proposed transmission line from Canada submitted more than 75,000 signatures calling for a statewide referendum on the project.

Unlike Mills and LePage, Saviello has been steadfast in his opposition to the unpopular corridor plan that he began fighting four years ago when Central Maine Power first proposed a new transmission line from the Quebec border to Lewiston.

A ballot question in November showed that Mainers are against the $1 billion project by a lopsided margin.

LePage and Saviello have clashed in the past. The ex-governor once tagged him “the most repugnant human being I’ve ever seen.

But this month LePage called Saviello “a good guy” who “is who he is.”

He insisted, though, that the former state senator from Wilton did “an enormous disservice” to the state with his strident opposition to the corridor.

“Ask him about the 240,000 people who agreed with me,” Saviello responded.

The ballot question to block construction of the transmission line got 243,943 votes in November, about 50% more than the 168,143 supporting the New England Clean Energy Connect project. Work has halted on the project as courts sort out what happens next.

LePage said Saviello didn’t tell people the whole story about the plan.

Maine needs the connection to Quebec hydropower, he said, to help ensure it will have access to electricity in coming years.

He said people who say the power is for Massachusetts don’t understand how the system works.

LePage said Maine has messed up every opportunity for 50 years to improve its power supply. The corridor vote is just another example of missing a chance to lower costs and increase access to the electricity needs, he said.

“We need the power somewhere,” LePage said, because nuclear plants have closed or will be shutting down with nothing to replace them except what the oil and gas industry supplies at a high price.

Saviello said LePage had a chance to cut a much better deal when the project was still on the drawing boards.

“He could have fixed it,” Saviello said.

He said if LePage had made Maine’s backing contingent on Massachusetts approving a bigger natural gas pipeline to Maine, it would have meant cheaper prices and a bigger gas supply.

LePage had the leverage to get Bay State leaders to approve the gas pipeline improvements but failed to do so.

“He could have made a difference,” Saviello said, if he had “negotiated a better deal.”

Saviello, 71, said he’s going to put off a decision about whether to jump into the governor’s race until some of the legal issues surrounding the corridor are sorted out early in 2022.

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