WATERVILLE — Paul LePage and the six Republicans he defeated in the June 8 primary gathered Wednesday for a show of unity on the steps of City Hall, with each of the former candidates pledging their support for the mayor of Waterville.
But some endorsements rang louder than others. State Sen. Peter Mills, who up to today hadn’t publicly announced his support for LePage, paused and seemed to reconsider during his turn at the lectern.
“My support for this nominee, is,” Mills started out slowly before pausing for six seconds and pronouncing, “I need to see.”
In a long-ranging speech that stretched longer than LePage’s, Mills said Republicans must avoid social issues — which Mills himself is more moderate on — and focus on governing.
Mills said that when Republicans were in the majority they failed to deliver. “We tried to rule, we tried to govern, but we got into some squabbles we didn’t need to, we divided along lines where we didn’t need to divide. And we failed to deliver to Maine people a clear conception of the affirmative, positive things we need to do, we wanted to do, in order to make this state a better place,” Mills said. “And we lost the next election.”
“It is important,” Mills continued, “that we as a party begin to set aside some of the social issues that divide us — some of the stuff that we get into squabbles about within the party — and begin to focus on business … and specifically on the business of managing and running state government. It is a mess.”
LePage emphasized business and governing during his speech at the rally and to reporters at a news conference after the event.
“I’ll take a word from Calvin Coolidge: The business in Maine is going to be business come November,” LePage said during the event.
“This election and this campaign is going to be about putting Maine in the right direction,” he said, citing creating jobs, lowering taxes and reforming Maine’s regulatory environment as keys to success.
LePage, who describes himself as pro-life supporter of traditional marriage, has been attacked by some who say he wants to teach creationism in schools. He told reporters Wednesday that social issues can not rise to the forefront of the campaign.
“If we concentrate on social issues as the No. 1 issue this fall, the state of Maine is doomed,” LePage said. “We have to concentrate on jobs, fiscal responsibility, accountability, and have common sense regulations in the state of Maine. And that’s what it’s all about. You want to talk about something else you’re going to have politics as usual. If you want politics as usual, I’m not your guy. If you want the state to prosper, I’m your guy.”
After the rally, Mills said LePage had broad, grassroots support — as evidenced by his 2-1 win over the second-place candidate, Les Otten — and estimated that tens of thousands of independents had enrolled at the polls on Election Day to vote for LePage. The official numbers won’t be known until the secretary of state releases them sometime in the next two weeks.
But, Mills said, LePage must avoid being characterized by social issues, or he would meet the same fate of the 2006 Republican nominee for governor.
“I think that Democrats were able to define Chandler Woodcock in an adverse way during the summer months,” Mills said. “And I think it behooves Paul to come out, by taking an affirmative stance on some positive issues that resonate with independent, moderate voters and the Democrats.”
Paula Sutton, of Warren, who attended the rally, said she was an independent voter until she enrolled as a Republican so she could vote for LePage in the primary.
“I believe in him because he’s not a lawyer, he has political experience and he has small business experience,” Sutton said.
Asked about LePage’s stance on social issues, Sutton said she didn’t think it would be an issue.
“I don’t think that’s one of the things we’re concerned about,” Sutton said. “We’re concerned about taxes, spending too much money. The social issues, he’s not going to press a button and make abortion illegal or any of the social issues people might disagree on.”