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Former governor kicks off campaign for 3rd term with rally

September 22, 2021 GMT
Former Gov. Paul LePage pumps his fist as he walks off the stage at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. LePage formally kicked off his campaign for a third term in front of more than a thousand noisy supporters at an indoor arena in the capital city. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via AP)
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Former Gov. Paul LePage pumps his fist as he walks off the stage at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. LePage formally kicked off his campaign for a third term in front of more than a thousand noisy supporters at an indoor arena in the capital city. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via AP)
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Former Gov. Paul LePage pumps his fist as he walks off the stage at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. LePage formally kicked off his campaign for a third term in front of more than a thousand noisy supporters at an indoor arena in the capital city. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via AP)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage formally kicked off his campaign for a third term Wednesday evening in front of more than a thousand noisy supporters at an indoor arena in the capital city.

LePage accused Democratic Gov. Janet Mills of “reckless spending” and using federal handouts to prop up government. He also decried what he described as “heavy-handed directives” during the pandemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and sickened thousands more in Maine.

He touted his two terms marked by belt-tightening and hard-fought battles over taxes, spending, welfare and health care, and accused Mills of rolling back most of those changes.

“Career politicians like Janet Mills and her political cronies have done their best to undermine progress and move Maine backwards,” he said.

Mill’s campaign spokesperson said the governor’s actions led to Maine having one of the nation’s lowest rates of infection and deaths, while improving health care, increasing education funding, delivering property tax relief and boosting the rainy day fund.

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“Governor Mills is focused on putting an end to this pandemic, getting Maine people back to work, strengthening and diversifying our economy with good-paying jobs, and making sure every Maine child can get a world-class education,” Michael Perry said.

In the past, LePage liked to compare himself to another polarizing Republican — former President Donald Trump — and he even once said he “was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.”

That blustery, bare-knuckle style earned him a base of supporters that stuck with him after he left office and showed up in force Wednesday evening.

LePage vowed, if elected, to work to end the state’s income tax, to promote school choice and to ensure more highway spending, among other things.

He also vowed a new approach on pandemic restrictions. “We need creative community-by-community decisions. We don’t need government mandates. We need freedom,” he said to cheers.

He was introduced by his wife Ann LePage, who recounted his life story as youngster who dealt with domestic abuse and homelessness before going to school and becoming a business leader.

“Retirement didn’t suit him,” she quipped about his return to politics.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins gave her endorsement via videotaped message, which received jeers from some in the crowd, and Travis Mills also praised the former governor via video. Mills lost four limbs in a roadside blast in Afghanistan, and survived to launch a foundation to help other veterans and to launch a business.

While out of office, LePage moved to Florida where the taxes are lower and registered to vote there. But it was short lived. He moved back to his home state last year. He now lives in Edgecomb.

Under the Maine Constitution, LePage was limited to two consecutive terms but he’s allowed to run again after sitting out a term.

It’ll be hard for voters to forget some of LePage’s eruptions, which he alluded to, saying, “I don’t accept status quo, as you probably remember.”

LePage once said he’d tell President Barack Obama to “go to hell,” and told the Portland chapter of the NAACP to “kiss my butt.” He survived his own impeachment as governor around the same time he suggested out-of-state drug dealers were impregnating “young white” girls. He vowed to seek “spiritual guidance” after leaving an expletive-laden message for a Democratic lawmaker.

The carefully choreographed event at the Augusta Civic Center was intended to turn the page on that version of LePage.

Tickets were required and signs, flags and fliers had to be approved by LePage’s campaign. The Maine Republican Party already threw its support behind LePage, clearing the way for his run.

The rally was held against a backdrop of the delta variant filling hospitals and critical care units across the state.

Few people in attendance wore masks. Augusta Civic Center rules suggested that masks should be worn by all, even those who’ve been vaccinated. But there was no mandate for them.