Why LePage’s Obama comments matter to Susan Collins

Here’s why Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s alleged but denied comments at a Republican fundraiser where he reportedly called President Barack Obama a racist matter: U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

The well-respected senior Maine Republican senator has meticulously built a career based on bipartisanship, comity and substance. She’s up for re-election in 2014 and has no real challenges, either from the right or left, thanks to her well-built state campaign network and maintenance of relationships with the base, including leaders such as LePage. And though she’s faced tough questions about some of his past statements, never has she been confronted with coping with an intra-party dispute of  this significance.

Two Republican lawmakers, on background, told the Portland Press Herald LePage said the president was racist. He denies it. Multiple other sources have confirmed to me he did say it. Regardless, as on of the top Republican officials in the state, Collins must now either side with those rallying their wagons around LePage’s lie or risk alienating the governor. Her spokesman did his best at parsing the scenario in a statement Wednesday.

“Sen. Collins was not at the event and did not hear the comment the governor is alleged to have made,” he said in an email. “To be clear, however, Sen. Collins does not believe President Obama hates white people nor does she believe he is racist.”

In other words, she’s not weighing in on whether or not LePage is lying. But given that he said it at a Republican Party fundraising event, it’s a fair bet she and her staff know people who were in the room and know the truth of what happened.

The lingering question is whether or not any Republican lawmaker – or anyone else in the room – will consider the political calculus of lying to protect LePage, the party’s standard-bearer currently polling around 30 percent and decide it’s just not worth it. Most lawmakers run in head-to-head match-ups, meaning that while LePage could conceivably squeak by with that amount of support, they need to be more around the 50 percent mark.

And once one person goes on the record, it’s likely the political dam will break – and in more ways that one for LePage.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.