What Paul LePage’s State of the State says about the 2014 gubernatorial election

Gov. Paul LePage isn’t going to change his stripes ahead of his re-election campaign and that’s both a testament to his conviction to staying true to who he is and a recognition of his best path to victory.

Liberal and middle of the road voters alienated by the blustery Republican in his first term are not going to abandon Democratic candidate Mike Michaud or independent candidate Eliot Cutler for LePage. It’s just not going to happen. LePage wins re-election by firing up his base, aiming for that 38 percent support he received in 2010 and praying the Cutler campaign gets something going and splits the remaining 62 percent of the vote with Michaud.

In his State of the State address, LePage hit the base-baiting rhetoric that has been a hallmark of his: castigating liberals, railing against undeserving welfare recipients and asking citing egregious examples of excess government.

“Liberals have led us down a dangerous path,” the still fabulously unpolished LePage warned from his podium before the Maine Legislature Tuesday night.

His speech stretched nearly an hour, covering all the top issues in the state, from welfare, tax and education reform to energy policy, drug enforcement and economic stimulus through transportation spending and the creation of right-to-work pro-business zones.

In a true preview of the 2014 campaign trail, LePage showed off both his strengths and his weaknesses during the speech.

When speaking about education, LePage noted the life-changing role of the Lewiston families who took him in off the streets as a youth and taught him the importance of education. LePage’s rags-to-riches story is well-known in Maine at this point, but as any tale of triumph, it doesn’t lose its meaning or poignancy with time. No matter your politics, there’s something to be said for a kid who made it against all odds, with grit and determination, and on the back of which all of us Mainers pride ourselves on – hard work.

“Throwing money at poverty will not end poverty; throwing education and mentorship is the only way to end poverty,” LePage said.

But even though its an effective partisan tactic to bash welfare – which for LePage amounts to almost any taxpayer-funded assistance program – his rambling logic featured during the State of the State did him no extraordinary favors. A major fault of LePage is his ability to mar his message with either falsities, vulgarity or a disjointed speaking style that leaves it up to listeners to translate what he really means.

Perhaps trying to cut off criticism that he’s cold-hearted for trying to reduce benefits and opposing Medicaid expansion favored by Democrats, LePage highlighted the story of a young boy on a waiting list for state assistance, blaming lawmakers for not doing enough to help the needy. Yet, he also raged against government programs for the poor, calling Maine unsustainably generous for going above and beyond federal recommendations.

The governor may have learned some lessons and developed some gravitas from his time so far in office – in one turnabout, he pressed for transportation spending as job stimulus, though he opposed bonding packages aimed at the same goal early in his governorship. However, he still remains rough around the edges in a way that may encourage his most steadfast supporters and but will remind the nearly two-thirds of the state that voted against him in 2010 he’s still the same gruff-and-tumble governor.

If his approach to the State of the State showed anything, it’s that his fate remains tied up in the upcoming tussle between his two opponents.

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.