LePage: Collins will ‘back down’ in governor’s race if GOP base rejects her

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage looks to be leading a Republican civil war against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ 2018 gubernatorial bid — before anyone’s sure that she’ll declare one and as she sits at the center of the national health care debate.

The governor railed against the moderate Republican senator at a Saturday pig roast put on by the Somerset County Republican Committee in Canaan, where an attendee said LePage repeatedly mentioned working to defeat Collins if she runs for governor next year.

It came after her Friday vote against Republicans’ latest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She was one of three Senate Republicans to cast key votes rejecting it, putting one of the party’s major goals in jeopardy.

President Donald Trump tweeted that opponents “let the American people down,” but Collins was pictured returning to the Bangor airport to applause in a waiting area. In a Sunday interview with CNN, she called it “heartwarming and affirming.”

But Collins is also considering a Blaine House run in 2018 and has said that she’d make a decision on running by the fall. Few in Maine politics are certain that she’ll declare one besides LePage, who said in a Thursday radio interview that he thinks she’s planning on it.

“If the Republican base — which is the 290,000 people that voted for me (in his 2014 re-election) — tell her, ‘We don’t want you; you’re not winning the primary,’ she’ll back down,” he said in a video provided by the attendee at the Canaan event under conditions of anonymity.

That line got some applause from the crowd of Republican diehards who love LePage, who began his political ascent with a wide primary win over six opponents. LePage got an approval rating of 47 percent in the latest round of state-by-state polling from Morning Consult.

He’s got a far more limited base than Collins, who may be Maine’s most popular politician, regularly registering approval ratings in the mid- to high-60s. A 2014 poll during her last re-election campaign saw her pulling more support from Democrats than from Republicans.

But Collins has always maintained relationships to party loyalists by helping lower-level politicians win elections. LePage is no exception to that.

Days before the 2014 election where both were up for re-election, Collins showed up at LePage’s Blaine House food drive, was greeted with a hug and said she had unwavering support for the governor and praised him for “his emphasis on jobs and the economy.”

Their relationship has soured since the 2016 election. LePage became an early Trump endorser in February 2016, while Collins said she wouldn’t support Trump that August. After Trump won Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and the election, he said she was “done in Maine.”

In April, Collins gave a radio interview where she weighed her options for 2018, saying her goal would be to “heal the state” if she ran, a likely jab at LePage’s divisive tenure. After that, LePage said he didn’t know her well enough to know whether she’d be a good governor.

LePage’s former health and human services commissioner, Mary Mayhew of South China, is the only Republican in the gubernatorial race so far. She led LePage’s opposition to Medicaid expansion, which Collins came out in favor of in June.

Those two could be foils if Collins does get in, but as he always seems to be in Maine politics, LePage will be front and center in any battle that materializes here. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Critical Insights tracking poll results won’t be released until this fall. For the past couple of decades, Portland-based Critical Insights has conducted a spring tracking poll on a spectrum of issues, many of them related to politics and policy. This year was no exception, but the results aren’t set to be released to the public, according to Robert M. Domine, the organization’s president. A large number of partners in the poll as well as increasing demands for the organizations research services have made publishing the poll results impossible. Domine said he is “not comfortable reporting our polling results as being representative of current public opinion,” but that another round of polling — and a release of the data — is scheduled for the fall. — Christopher Cousins
  • Maine’s U.S. House representatives team up on behalf of veterans’ clinic in Portland. Democrat Chellie Pingree and Republican Bruce Poliquin inserted a provision in a budget bill to extend funding for the Veterans CHOICE program at the new Portland VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), as well as several other VA facilities around the country. The provision, which passed the House on Friday, extends the lease on the Portland facility for six months. According to a release from Pingree and Poliquin, that will allow expansion work on the Portland facility to resume if the provision makes it to enactment. — Christopher Cousins
  • LePage staff attorney takes post at Maine Department of Labor. Hancock Fenton, who has served as deputy counsel and gubernatorial adviser on public safety and corrections issues, has been named chief hearing officers and director of the Division of Administrative Hearings in the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, according to a news release from the LePage administration. Part of Fenton’s charge, according to bureau director John Feeney, will be to continue the implementation of reforms in the unemployment system that were recommended by a state-level blue ribbon commission and the U.S. Department of Labor. Fenton replaced Liz Wyman, who stepped out of the position last fall, on July 17. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Non-rider to stunt driver in 3 hours

We live on a gravel road, which is great for riding bikes, but not ones with training wheels. That has delayed my youngest son, Lucas, from learning to ride a bike. He turned 7 last week and enough was enough: no boy of mine is going through life without riding a bike.

So, we bought him a new hog (that’s daddy-speak for bicycle) and gave it to him at his Nana’s house, which is on a quiet, tarred residential street in western Maine. Within two hours he was begging us to remove the training wheels, which we did. There were falls, bumps and scrapes, sudden meetings with a few trees and some tears, but this kid doesn’t give up.

With riding upright accomplished but learning to stop and start still on the to-do list, my “helpful” older son started suggesting wheelies, building a jump and a slalom course. He taught his little brother to slam on his brakes and skid, which is how he spent most of the rest of the weekend. Before long the road in front of Nana’s house was covered with a lattice pattern of rubber streaks, which he calls “skit marks.”

His brand new rear tire is about 50 percent worn already and someone suggested that he should stop skidding or he’ll wear it out. I’m usually all about conservation and saving money, but not in this case. He’s a seven-year-old boy, after all.

“Skit the treads right off it, buddy,” I told him. “We’ll buy you a new tire if you need one.”

Here’s his birthday soundtrack. Christopher Cousins

Programming note

In celebration of the arrival of August and the fact you should be enjoying it and not reading about politics, the Daily Brief will take Tuesday off. We’ll see you Wednesday when the Legislature comes back to Augusta for one more day.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.