LePage's Train Tour Derails His Campaign
Maine GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage's one-day train tour through Midcoast Maine was meant to raise some money and bring some media attention to his campaign. Thanks to an amazing string of gaffes, accusations, and attacks from the candidate, it certainly succeeded in doing the latter and may end up as a defining moment of the 2010 campaign.
Susan Sharon at MPBN has done the best job so far chronicling LePage’s statements. If you haven't yet, go read or listen to her piece and then come back here.
The first thing the train tour did was derail the attempts by the LePage campaign to distance themselves from the right-wing Tea Party movement. Not only was it revealed that the Maine Tea Party packed the lunches for the trip, but LePage also stated that he recently cancelled an event with the NAACP because they accused members of the Tea Party of racism. He obviously knows which side his bread is buttered on.
The decision to stand with accused racists and dis the NAACP also adds some unintentional hilarity to the name of the event: "Paul LePage’s Freedom Train."
LePage didn't stop there. He took the discussion of racism a step further, claiming that he himself is the victim of discrimination at the hands of Maine Democratic Party Campaign Director Arden Manning, who he accused of writing blog posts attacking him for being French-Canadian and Catholic.
There's absolutely no evidence that Manning did any such thing, and he and the Democratic Party have given the media every scrap of electronic material they’ve produced during the campaign (including the posts on his personal Facebook page) to prove it. They've also demanded an apology from LePage and have raised the possibility of legal action.
"If Mr. LePage made this statement with reckless disregard of the truth, it could potentially be ruled as slander against Mr. Manning," said Maine Democratic Party lawyer Dan Walker in a release.
As of this morning, LePage has yet to apologize or to rescind the false accusation.
LePage has however apologized for another statement he made during his train tour, when he joked about the age of his Democratic opponent, Libby Mitchell.
"Libby had her 70th birthday a few weeks ago, and I'm concerned about her. We should send her home," said LePage.
That remark drew the ire of both the Mitchell campaign and the AARP, with state director Nancy Kelleher declaring that "To reject anyone just by virtue of their age, well, it's just discrimination and shouldn't be done."
The attack is also noteworthy due to the fact that LePage is sixty-one and if he served a full term, would himself be the oldest governor of Maine since 1889.
LePage's apology came during an appearance on the conservative-leaning WVOM morning show, where he also proceeded to mangle the English language ("My differences with Elizabeth Mitchell is on the policies") and make a very surprising declaration: "From now on what I'm going to do is I'm not going to make any comments to reporters unless it's in writing."
This is, to say the least, an unorthodox tactic for a gubernatorial candidate, especially in Maine where the openness of politicians is so highly prized. It will be interesting to see how the Maine media reacts.
It also means that we may never get a straight answer to another question raised by LePage's locomotive logorrhea: where he stands on teaching creationism in schools.
During the primary, LePage seemed to be all for it, answering "Yes and yes" to the question "Do you believe in creationism and do you think it should be taught in Maine public schools?" during MPBN’s televised debate.
Even as late as last month, LePage still seemed to hold that view. He was quoted in the Press Herald on June 21, 2010, as saying about creationism that "Quite frankly, it's a learning tool for our kids. I think we should teach them everything possible and let them make their own minds up on how they want to live their lives."
But once aboard the train, LePage changed his tune. "I never said such a thing," LePage told Susan Sharon. "Quite frankly, until [Manning] brought up the term creationism I never heard it. I never hear it in my whole life. I'm 61 years old. I never heard the word. Do I believe that we came from monkeys? Yes. Do I believe in God? Yes. Does that make me a creationist?"
Any one of these lies, gaffes and accusations might be enough to damage a political campaign. All together they may spell the beginning of the end for LePage's attempt at the Blaine House.