For a man who prides himself on telling it like it is, Paul LePage, by his own admission, has said some things that he'd like to take back. He now regrets making this comment to a group of fishermen at a Republican forum in Brooksville over the weekend.
"And as your governor, you're going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying: 'Governor LePage Tells Obama To Go To Hell.'"
The comments were picked up by new outlets around the country, including by the New York Times. This comes on the heels of two highly-publicized news conferences called by LePage two weeks ago.
One at the State House abruptly ended when LePage stormed out after being asked about his wife's residency in Florida. At the other, LePage swore at a reporter when asked about his children's tuition status in Florida.
LePage later apologized to several reporters and described the day as a disaster. But this week, as he prepared to tape a television interview with MPBN's Jennifer Rooks, LePage made a comment about MPBN's A.J. Higgins, one of the reporters who pressed him for answers at the Augusta news conference.
"I'm about ready to punch A.J. Higgins," LePage told Rooks.
Jennifer Rooks: "Don't punch him."
Paul LePage: "Oh, come on."
Jennifer Rooks: "No, no."
LePage now says he never had any intention of punching Higgins and has since called Higgins to make that clear. "I'm like a dog. I bark more than I bite and I've never bitten anyone yet," LePage says.
In a telephone interview, LePage went on to say that he agrees that a candidate's temperament is important in the race for governor. And he acknowledged that he has room for improvement. He spent much of his early life on the streets and says some of his "rough around the edges" manner of speaking and behaving is a remnant of that lifestyle.
"There was an editorial that says, you can take the person off the streets but you can't take the street out of the person, and I will readily admit that if you are on your own from 11 years old on there's a little bit of that that stays; that as much as you try, some of that stays."
As for how others see LePage's behavior, it depends on whom you ask. Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, one of LePage's four challengers, is not impressed.
"There is a crude bullying to his approach to dealing with others that I don't think fits in the state of Maine, and I don't think it's what people of the state of Maine want in a governor," Cutler says.
But supporters say LePage is just being himself. "I think people want someone that's sincere," says Lance Dutson, communications director for the Maine Republican Victory Campaign. "I think that even beyond right or left or conservative or liberal right now, people are looking for sincerity in the people that lead them. And I think that that's something that Paul has very clearly showed and I think that's part of what's going on here."
Earlier this summer LePage accused Democrats of saying he was unfit to be governor because he was French Canadian and Catholic, a claim that was never verified and vigorously denied. He also apologized for poking fun at his Democratic opponent Libby Mitchell's age. even though the two are less than ten years apart.
"I think these comments really show that LePage isn't ready to lead," says Arden Manning, the director of the Maine Democrats' coordinated campaign.
LePage has also had an uneasy relationship with the media. He says he values "honesty, transparency and accountability" in his campaign. But he has accused reporters of being dishonest and asked them to send him their questions in writing, something University of Southern Maine political science chair Ron Schmidt says is a new trend.
"You know, this is an interesting development that we're seeing in other places in the country, that candidates are either refusing to meet with the media in general or maintaining a fairly conflictual relationship with most of the media and a very, very close relationship with copesetic media outlets," Schmidt says. "This seems like it could be a problem in terms of communicating directly with the voters and also in terms of transparency."
LePage did return calls to MPBN today and answered questions about several ongoing issue in the campaign.
For weeks, polls have showed Paul LePage with a sizeable lead over his Democratic opponent, Libby Mitchell, and the three Independents in the race trailing. But a new poll this week by Critical Insights shows LePage and Mitchell in a statistical dead heat.